As editor of the Salford Star I've been having a go at you a bit in our own magazine and in the general press, so I'm now writing to you direct.
Although I know you're very busy, you might have read that the Salford Star is under permanent financial stress and we are unable to bring out our Christmas issue, despite the fact there is so much information that the community in your constituency really needs to know.
I'm probably one of the few people in Salford that has actually read your Communities In Control white paper, and a lot of it is quite brilliant in theory…"a strong independent media is a vital part of any democracy"…the whole concept of empowerment for communities etc. Love the bit about the Chartists too, as they actually met about 100 yards from where the Salford Star is produced.
We are putting your words totally into practice – we're giving the community a voice, we are empowering people to get their big brave Salford gobs heard…we are holding public authorities up to account…we are helping the wheels of real democracy roll onwards without any political alignment or agenda.
We are also highlighting and showcasing all the positive cultural things going on in Salford – bands, poets, writers, artists, dancers and film makers have all got their first ever media acknowledgement on the pages of the Salford Star. We are reintroducing the community to lost heritage too – with features on the Chartists, Fred Engels, the birth of the TUC and even Salford orchids.
We are giving writers, graphic designers and photographers an opportunity to showcase their skills and many have now set up their own businesses or gone into employment as a result. We're involved in the grass roots attempt to get Salford people skilled up for any jobs that may come via Media City which aren't sweeping up, security or burger flipping. We work one to one with our volunteers to train them. Everything is done on a very personal and informal level. But, basically, we're ticking every single empowerment box on the planet.
We're non-profit, 3rd sector, ethical and quality, shown by all the awards we've won – How Do top magazine in the north west this year, Millennium Award winners, runner up in the Paul Foot awards…we even won the Lotta Bottle Award at Studio Salford…and have just won yet another national award which I can't disclose for another two weeks.
Surely you should be singing our praises from the rooftops? You have the top community magazine in the country, empowering people and giving them a voice, in your own constituency – how cool is that?
So let me ask you a question…You've given all the great white paper words out, we've ticked all your boxes…can you show me any government fund that supports community magazines like the Salford Star?
I've seen your `Digital Mentors' proposal – but that is web based and film stuff. As you know, the digital divide in this country is as big as the wealth divide, and nowhere more so than in Salford where official estimates are that only one in five people have direct access to the net. There's no point in doing `empowerment' online – it might be sexy for funders but nobody will see it. We are a community centred magazine done in old fashioned print, with old fashioned journalistic and community ethics, and extremely proud of it.
You might point us in the direction of Salford's `community kitty' – been there, done that and - as you probably know - got our application ripped up by Salford Council before it even got anywhere near the community. I'm sure you would agree that `strong independent' community centred magazines need to be publicly funded. We don't have the backing of big business. We don't have the backing of the big advertising players in Salford's regeneration economy (URC, PCT, etc etc)…indeed Salford Council has just re-launched its own `safe' magazine, LIFE, to clean up on this front with an investment of £175,000 from council taxpayers.
What we do have, overwhelmingly, is the backing of Salford's community – our collection boxes in Langworthy and Weaste get filled three times over between issues, for example, and we get at least half a dozen calls or e-mails or letters a day from local people wanting to either be involved, or be featured in the mag.
So, I ask you again, please show me any government fund that supports real democracy and empowerment, and where the Salford Star (or similar community magazines) would be eligible to apply. If you can, great. If not we will take your Communities In Control: Real People, Real Power White Paper – and chuck it in the Irwell.
Look forward to hearing from you.
With attitude and love xxx
PS. This is an open letter and we have circulated it all over the place.