The Bristol Cable

We’re laying long term foundations with many lessons learned along the way. Here are some we will take forward into 2018.

Photo: Tommy Chavannes

We’d love to hear your thoughts on where we have fallen short and what we can do better. Let us know on social media or email content@thebristolcable.org

Transparency For The Win

While mistakes are rife across media, corrections are few and far between. Our experience of one case in particular, and how we handled the correction, reaffirmed to us just how much our members value transparency and honesty in journalism.

In July 2017, we ran a story reporting a 53% increase in the number of council employees employed on the highest salary bands, when in fact it was a 17% increase. The error was based on an incorrect reading of a council document.

A correction was necessary, that was clear. Whereas most publishers would bury such a correction at the bottom of the article, we knew that it was important to give the correction as much prominence as the original article. So we published a separate piece to issue an apology, but explain what the error was and how it was made.

We believe criticism is fair where criticism is due, and we will apply that principle to ourselves as we do others.

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The storm won’t pass: Keeping up the pressure

Those under the investigative spotlight often count on the fleeting news cycle to avoid proper accountability – waiting for the ‘storm’ to pass- before quickly returning to business as usual. So how does a small local publisher maximise the impact of its investigative stories? We decided to return to select stories time and time again, from different angles, and with new information and voices. In doing so, we did our best to make sure that critical issues wouldn’t be ignored.

Such examples include an ongoing investigation revealing the co-operation between the council and the Home Office in deporting Bristol’s European rough sleepers from the UK, or the highlighting of the council planning error that has left Avonmouth residents facing down another polluting industry, and the wide ranging series ‘Whats wrong with drugs’ exploring this critical issue.

As the news cycle cranks up in 2018, we’ll double down on a commitment to get beneath the story. Got a theme you would like us to cover? Get in touch!

Sowing the seeds for a citywide media co-operative

This year, the Cable held its monthly members meetings across the city, from discussing drugs in Knowle West, how the Cable can better engage the city in Windmill Hill and the impact of polluting industries in Avonmouth.

These meetings are about firmly rooting what we do in our communities. The Cable took a leaf out of Bernie Sanders’ playbook by organising our very own ‘Barnstorm’ – bringing people together to plan and organise grassroots campaigning. As a result, dozens of members have talked to their neighbours, friends and colleagues about the Cable’s approach to journalism, community ownership, and collected info on important local issues.

We also fully launched our in-house distribution team: Cable members are paid to distribute 13,000 copies door-to-door each quarter in their neighbourhoods across the city.

If we’re to live up to being Bristol’s media co-operative, we need to have a presence across the city if people are to own and truly control their media co-operative.

Out of the office and into the meetings!

Democratic trials and tribulations

There’s no editor-in-chief, no boss, and all of us are paid an equal rate. It’s what distinguishes us from other media organisations and most businesses. Direct democracy and co-ownership of the Cable are essential for a new media. But it can be hard graft.

2017 was in some ways a challenging year for the co-operative as we evolved from an ambitious start-up built on sheer sweat into an organisation that is laying foundations for a co-operative that is rewarding for those who make it happen and effective in reaching our aims.

Together we’re working to improve our decision-making processes, governance, individual and collective responsibilities, and draw up strategies for sustainability and growth in 2018 and beyond.

Collaboration over competition

The world of journalism is typically marked by fierce competition rather than collaboration. This year we learned just how powerful collaboration between local and national partners can be.

In one such case, Cable journalist Lorna Stephenson worked with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to report on the rise of factory farms in the South West. These US-style ‘mega-farms’ in Somerset and Gloucestershire keep animals in squalid and environmentally unsafe conditions, on an industrial scale. Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy has since taken the issue to Parliament.

Also this year, an exclusive Cable investigation revealed evidence of racial profiling by immigration officers in cities across the UK, was also co-published with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, and covered in 10 local newspapers as well as the Guardian. The investigation leading to 8 MPs, leading lawyers and campaigners to call on the government to review their practises.

Another aspect of collaboration is opening up journalism to a wider range of people. Whether that is through our collaborative editorial process or educational opportunities. In 2016/17, we ran a free Media Lab course in the fundamentals of quality journalism for 15 people from across the city.  Our Media Lab graduates are a testament to the success of the programme, with many now producing confident and powerful journalism at the Cable and elsewhere. Given this success, we’ll be adapting and expanding the Media Lab programme in 2018. Applications for the new course will open in January.

Thanks to our 1850 members and supporters who make this possible!

We’d love to hear your thoughts on where we have fallen short and what we can do better. Let us know on social media or email content@thebristolcable.org

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