Owning the media: we do have a choice

Jamie VeitchAny George Clooney fans reading this? Whether or not you admire Mr. Clooney, you may be aware of his recent, well publicised spat with the Daily Mail and Mail Online in which he said the publication “makes up its facts.” They apologised – but Clooney has refused to accept the apology.

We’ve heard much lately about dubious media practices: Andy Coulson, former editor of News International’s News of the World, was jailed for 18 months recently. Many reality television shows have been slammed for exploiting their subjects.  And a former counter-terrorism officer has been jailed for attempting to sell information to a newspaper.

So it’s easy to become jaded about the media. To consider it to be manipulative and cynical. To disengage.

Hardly surprising, then, to see the groundswell of support for a new campaign, “Let’s Own the News” which launched this week and is inviting pledges from people who like the idea of buying The Times and The Sunday Times from Rupert Murdoch.  Backed by The Young Foundation, Let’s Own the News say that “80% of the national newspapers we read are controlled by 5 families, this is not a free press and it undermines our democracy. Our vote is worth little if a few people control the information we read. ”

In less than a week since their campaign launched, over £250,000 has been “pledged” by supporters. We could dismiss their campaign as a publicity stunt, or as clicktivism: it’s easy to pledge £25 (or however much) when the site isn’t asking for money, and is clear that it is a “non-binding pledge.”  But in the era of accelerating change for media (whilst traditional newspapers are struggling with falling print circulations and struggling to figure out how to monetise their online offering, viral internet site BuzzFeed, famed for cat videos, was this week valued at more than the three times the Washington Post) the campaign demonstrates that many of us still yearn for both variety in ownership, and trusted content, from media.

But we do, perhaps, have more media variety and choice than we realise. I’ve been working with Sheffield community radio station, Sheffield Live!, which broadcasts on 93.2FM and through an internet livestream.

Sheffield Live, and the 200+ community radio stations like it across the UK, and many of our well known media outlets, and trusted national publications like New Start, all dohave passionate, knowledgeable, presenters or writers who care about their communities of interest – and act with integrity.

At Sheffield Live! I’ve met a diverse and wonderful mixture of voluntary radio presenters – and have even become a voluntary radio presenter myself. The station’s schedule encompasses brilliant and varied music and talk shows. It includes shows in 8 non-English languages. It is a triumph of demand-led programming –  people love Sheffield Live!  – for independently minded listeners across a range of overlapping niches. And community radio stations like it exist across the UK, run by love and loved by their listeners (see the Community Media Association for more.)

Right now, Sheffield Community Media (a new company setup for community benefit) is running the UK’s first community share offer (closing on 14 August) into media to support Sheffield Live and Sheffield’s new local TV channel. This, then, is a real chance for people who love the idea of locally owned media we can trust. More about this here.

LetsOwntheNews have hit on the notion that people don’t want media ownership concentrated in the hands of just a few. If that viewpoint resonates with you, then perhaps you could get involved with your local community media organisation – or even consider becoming a community share owner in Sheffield Community Media.

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Jamie Veitch

Jamie Veitch Consulting specialise in project management support, consultancy, and coaching and training.

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