Ben Chacko, editor of the Morning Star reports back from the recent series of Star shareholder’s meetings held in five separate centres.
In five separate meetings Morning Star shareholders reviewed what’s gone right and wrong over the past year, what opportunities there are for growth and how we can ensure the only daily dose of socialism in the British press achieves the exposure and attention it deserves.
A VERY big thank you to everyone who made it to our AGMs at the beginning of the month — they turned out to be quite a ride.
The AGMs are something of a baptism of fire for a new editor.
Our company secretary Chris Guiton, our circulation manager Bernadette Keaveney, our management committee chairman Bob Oram and I raced from meeting to meeting, reporting to the readers in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cardiff and London in five hectic days.
That didn’t mean there wasn’t time for fun, whether that was what our Scottish supporters politely term a “convivial gathering” or the moving social in honour of departed comrade Sam Watts held in Liverpool.
The main point of our AGMs is business, of course. Poor old Bob had to intervene a few times during lively discussions of the paper’s content and priorities to remind us we had to go back to legally required but less exciting items such as accepting the accounts for 2014.
As regular readers know the Morning Star struggles to make ends meet — it’s a tall order producing a daily paper on a shoestring budget, with none of the commercial advertising that makes up the bulk of income for other national dailies.
We have no wealthy proprietor to subsidise the operation — we are owned by you, our readers.
What you do day-in, day-out to keep us going is incredible, whether that’s donations and fundraising activities for our Fighting Fund (if you’re in London today, pop along to the south Camden readers and supporters booksale at the Marchmont Community Centre near Russell Square), paper sales or promoting us to all those labour movement and left activists who we know should be reading the Star but for whatever reason aren’t yet doing so.
It’s you who will ultimately secure the success of our 1,000 New Readers campaign, which is why a resolution on revitalising our readers and supporters network, building the links between individual groups and strengthening communication between the groups and the paper went down a storm at every AGM.
Considering the scale of the mobilisation that made last year’s Summer of Heroes fundraising drive such a success we know what we can achieve if we focus on winning new supporters.
We can’t thank you enough, nor emphasise often enough that the paper answers to you. Our paper is a readers’ co-op.
You call the shots and our AGMs are great because we all get to review what’s gone right and wrong over the past year, what opportunities there are for growth and how we can ensure the only daily dose of socialism in the British press achieves the exposure and attention it deserves.
It’s always fascinating to see how the insights and interests of readers up and down the country vary so widely. When we set off I thought the actual meetings might be a bit boring — the same agenda and same reports delivered five times in a row to different audiences.
But the AGMs really come to life through the input of those attending and each one turned out to be unique.
In Glasgow, unsurprisingly, much attention was paid to how we can return to having a full-time Scotland reporter on the books, in order to get the stories that matter north of the border into our pages.
A resolution committing us to finding a way to do that — the difficulty is, as ever, the finances — passed unanimously not just at that AGM but at them all.
Given the increasingly distinctive political scene in Scotland it is essential that we do our utmost to improve our coverage there.
How to increase this paper’s appeal to young people was a major theme of both the Glasgow and Cardiff AGMs.
The Morning Star is no longer merely a printed paper, of course — it also exists as the e-edition, which subscribers can get in pdf form or as a downloadable app.
Combined with our rapidly growing profile on social media, this will certainly help, but considering how badly young people have done out of five years of a Tory-led coalition — whether through tripled tuition fees, the mooted withdrawal of housing benefit or a host of other issues — we definitely need more young voices in our pages.
Our progress on combatting the “pale, male and stale” flavour of so much of the media — ourselves too often included — came in for praise, as we are doing more both to promote feminism and to address the balance of our contributors.
Assistant editor Ros Sitwell has pioneered this drive to make the Star the go-to paper for working-class and socialist feminism — progress that saw none other than TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady guest-edit our women’s day edition — while our sports editor Kadeem Simmonds was singled out for praise at more than one AGM for putting race, gender and politics back into sport.
We know we haven’t done enough, so we’ll keep at it.
And it seems the special editions we’ve started to put out have gone down a storm. Some, such as the editions commemorating the world wars and the TTIP edition, have been part of our collaboration with sister papers on the continent, while others such as the education and health specials have been put together with the help of experts in the relevant fields.
“If the paper is our weapon then the special editions are our WMDs,” management committee vice-chair Carolyn Jones told the Liverpool AGM.
The in-depth analysis of particular fields our special editions give us room for make them ideal for deconstructing the narratives of the ruling class and exposing what their real agenda is — and how it’s going to screw us over.
That Liverpool AGM saw a fascinating debate on raising circulation, at which Bernadette was able to outline just how much of a struggle it is even to get our paper into shops. But it’s a struggle we can’t afford to give up on for obvious reasons.
It even featured an unexpected appearance from Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who happened to have another meeting in the same building.
“If the devil could cast his net!” he chuckled as he surveyed the assembled members of the People’s Press Printing Society, before popping to another room to bring us back platters of sandwiches and snacks.
We’ve had a tough year at the Star, with changes of leadership, financial crises, illnesses and setbacks and to cap it all the return of David Cameron to Downing Street.
But at every AGM the message I took from you was the same — this paper isn’t giving up now. We have a fight on our hands and the Morning Star is the only newspaper that can speak for the resistance to this disgrace of a government.
It was an exhausting trip — but a phenomenal and inspiring one too. If you’re not a member of the PPPS, do get involved. Our paper’s readers are the labour movement’s finest and you won’t regret it.