By Sean Benstead
The Meteor is a not-for-profit, independent media co-operative offering an alternative, radical and community-based publication for the people of Manchester. Producing quality local journalism in print and online – and all totally free to access – The Meteor offers an epiphany of possibility as to what a local media landscape can look like: holding power to account, cooperatively owned and with a mission that is driven by the communities it serves.
Contemporary mainstream media look very different and the model that The Meteor is built upon does not follow the general trend. It is inarguable that much of the contemporary mainstream media put neither citizens nor community at the centre of their work. Instead, ad space is sold as journalism while media platforms, from print and radio to digital-only and social media, are being hoarded by an oligopoly of media barons.
A recent report by the Media Reform Coalition revealed that just three companies dominate 90% of the national print media landscape – an increase of nearly 10% since 2019. We have lost over 200 local newspaper outlets since 2005 and 83% of what remains is controlled by just six companies. Just two companies control 70% of Britain’s local radio.
To make matters particularly worrying, more than nine out of ten Local Democracy Reporters are contracted to the three most dominant publishers. This was deemed such a threat to democracy that in 2018, the Tory Prime Minister Theresa May and Culture Minister Matt Hancock launched an official review to examine the rise of low quality clickbait news, noting that
“when trusted and credible news sources decline, we can become vulnerable to news which is untrustworthy … So to address this challenge to our public debate we will launch a review to examine the sustainability of our national and local press. It will look at the different business models for high-quality journalism.”
May’s 2019 resignation came shortly after the outcome of the consultation was released, cutting any will for action short, and this agenda quickly fell from the growing list of priorities of the new PM, who was, incidentally, the former editor of the billionaire-owned Spectator.
Against this background, The Meteor is part of a growing wave of new media, following an alternative ownership model, which aims to assert itself onto the local media landscape and set high standards of ethics, inclusivity, diversity and true independence – gaining an accreditation from the standards regulator IMPRESS.
We report on the issues overlooked by the billionaire media. We have written stories on local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues, opinion pieces from local disabled activists and environmental campaigners from inside and outside of the Labour Party. The Meteor is also one of the few outlets committed to industrial relations journalism. While most other media outlets axed their industrial correspondents long ago, we’re interviewing striking workers on the front line, reporting on their demands and victories.
Opinion pieces, features and news reports are welcomed as guest pieces or as paid members. For as little as £1 per month, which is invested to cover the costs of the platform, individuals from across Greater Manchester can be part of publishing their local news and telling the stories that matter most to them.
Writers at The Meteor have contributed to seven sponsored content series, all editorially independent, with sponsors ranging from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation to the Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield. But The Meteor is no May-ist or Hancock-ista platform. Its raison d’etre goes well beyond what the then Conservative PM had wished for the sector, and this is reflected in the work that is published.
Currently, The Meteor is running a ‘Creating Radical Change’ (CRC) series which aims to focus upon, and give a platform to, people in Greater Manchester who are doing things to challenge existing systems, and creating the conditions for a much healthier and more socially just society to emerge.
At the time of writing, the most recent release in the CRC series, Kit Bell reported on ‘The Elephants Trail’,a community reporting scheme based in Bury which brings communities and individuals who face severe and multiple disadvantages into spaces of democratic co-production with people in positions of power to develop practical and sustainable solutions to their issues. In the piece, Kit interviews prison leavers, victims of domestic abuse and people who have experienced homelessness to platform their creative work and their road to self-empowerment.
A year before the launch of privately-funded mouthpiece of the British Right and key instigator of the culture wars, GB News, the former Executive Chair of Newsworks put the current state of affairs most succinctly: “the word ‘content’ has been hijacked by the bullshitters, the propagandists, the fakers and the like.”
Here at The Meteor, we are proud to be a part of the bulwark against the bullshitters, the propagandists, the fakers and the big money makers. And we commend all those other local, community media outlets that are driven towards democratising the news as part of the Independent Media Association and the Independent Community News Network.
Sean Benstead is a writer and member of the Production Team at The Meteor.
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