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5 things the Cable learned this year

As we reflect on 2021 and welcome 2022, one thing is clear: together, we can reshape the media and with it, our city. 

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Image: Bristol Cable AGM 2021

As the news of a potential ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron interrupts the seasonal festivity, we’re reflecting on how to use what the Cable has learned this year to guide us in the next.

This means celebrating some successes, including our impact and reaching hundreds of thousands of Bristolians. But also facing some big challenges, like financially sustaining the Cable, and digging deeper into the issues in our communities that the pandemic has caused or exposed. If you haven’t already, now is the time to get involved – join us and help redefine local media.

The early days of the pandemic saw a determined patchwork of emergency measures and mutual aid. But many of the safeguards put in place in 2020 have since been eroded: the ban on evictions has been lifted, the ‘Everyone In’ scheme scrapped, and foodbank workers have been left struggling against a ‘perfect storm’. 

When we learned that people who lost their jobs during the pandemic were also losing their homes, we followed up with a callout to readers about your experiences of renting in Bristol. The stories we heard back prompted our current editorial series, In Disrepair: Bristol’s broken renting system, which explores issues from spiralling costs to high demand, poor conditions, discrimination and insecurity.

In March we asked what’s fuelling mistrust of the Covid vaccine in our documentary Viral, and in June we dug deeper into the data to find that five areas in the city with the highest populations of ethnic minorities are also the five areas with the lowest Covid vaccine uptake. 

Only now, just as the booster programme gets underway, the BBC reports that just half of eligible people in Barton Hill have had their first jab. We need to build solidarity and trust, and demand appropriate services, particularly within deprived and diverse communities where the impact of the pandemic is most severe. 

Our first print edition of the 2021 was a launchpad for investigating the climate crisis in Bristol. The edition showcased grassroots action from community groups in the city as well as climate solutions from around the world. We asked readers for your questions, and set about answering them in a series of video explainers

We investigated the connections between the West of England Mayor and deforestation in West Papua and environmental issues within Bristol such as the use of harmful pesticides. Our investigation into sewage dumping in our rivers was cited by Kerry McCarthy in a parliamentary debate on the issue, showing how quality local reporting is a tool for holding powers to account. 

We spoke with leading scientists and contributors to the IPCCs latest ‘code red’ report, and connected with activists, social movements and civil society groups mobilising towards COP26. 

Investigative journalism can help us to sharpen our understanding of the climate crisis and strengthen our collective response. At the Cable, we’ve been inspired by global networks like Covering Climate Now, and collaborations like the Scottish Beacon. Building power behind our own reporting will require forging fresh connections with communities and organisations in Bristol and beyond in 2022 – something we’ll be focusing on.

Bristol was in the spotlight this year again as protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill erupted across the city. This was an important but demanding moment for our small team, as we produced live, on-the-ground coverage via social media, as well as longer in-depth reports on the actions leading up to the violence. 

Millions of people saw our coverage, which was broadcast across national television and newspaper outlets. But our coverage went deeper: unpacking the legislation and actions from civil society groups and social movements, exploring the history of the riot charges brought against protesters, and investigating the impacts of the proposed legislation on Traveller communities

More recently, we’ve been following the historic trial of the Colston 4, with daily reports from court and a callout to readers to ask how you feel about this landmark case. 

Both of these sets of events will have deep implications for justice in and beyond Bristol, so it’s imperative that we keep following these stories.

This year’s delayed local elections had a big impact on the political landscape in the region, with the Greens winning 12 councillor seats to become the joint largest party with Labour in the council.

Hundreds of people responded to a Cable callout to help shape a Citizens’ Agenda, a list of eight key priorities which informed our reporting on issues affecting the city. 

But there’s a lot left to learn from those who didn’t vote. An average turnout of just 40% masked a larger gulf in participation in the city – from 20% in Hartcliffe and Withywood, to 57% in Westbury-on-Trym and Henleaze. With a referendum on scrapping the mayor set for 2022, rebuilding trust and resolving this gap in local democracy will be key if the city is going to be led and run in the interests of everyone.

Our biggest learnings have come from Cable readers and members, with over 2,000 people responding to callouts this year. Our membership now stands at an amazing 2,780 people, each one a co-owner of the Cable. 

Together, we’re punching above our weight. Just last week, our investigation into mental health wards for children in Bristol was ‘highly commended’ in the British Journalism Awards and we continue to play a large role in shaping a movement for a better media. 

But to keep investigating and keep holding power to account, we need to grow more, and faster. Next year, our core funding will come to an end and costs such as printing will increase. So we need to redouble our efforts to reach and build relationships with new audiences. 

There’s lots to learn about how to sustain the Cable into the long term. But as we reflect on this past year and welcome the next, one thing is resolutely clear: together, we can reshape the media and with it, our city. 

So if you haven’t already: join us. 

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