Media shareholder meetings are usually where investors get together to decide the future of the publisher. In the case of Reach PLC, the owner of The Bristol Post, the largest shareholders are multi-billion pound corporate investors. In the case of the Bristol Cable – the only 100% community-owned newspaper in Bristol – our ‘investors’ are 2,750 (and counting!) local people, each with an equal share.
As a non-profit, we don’t dish out cash profits to shareholders. Instead, our dividends are community benefits. We invest all our resources into building a new model for media, and producing journalism that makes a difference for people in Bristol.
How we do that exactly is where members come in. Every year members get together to democratically steer our organisation and make key decisions. Known to be anything other than bland Annual General Meetings (AGMs), the event is usually vibrant and noisy.
This year we held it online again as a precaution, hosted by the staff team from our office in the centre of Bristol, with over 80 members tuning in from across the city.
Here’s a look back at what happened at our AGM on 19 October 2021.
Writing fast and slow
Sometimes stories break which make us think and work in completely different ways.
Covid is one of those. As many have become fatigued with Covid news compared to last year, we’ve worked hard to make sure our reporting is relevant and useful. In the second year of the pandemic we’ve continued to cover how Covid has affected Bristol, with concise Covid updates in our weekly newsletter, and in-depth reports into the wider impacts of Covid on the city.
The Kill the Bill protests were another critical moment where we’ve had to change gear in our approach to reporting. With a national news story breaking on our literal doorstep, we stepped into the fray to report live, night after night. Our on-the-ground reporting was able to challenge simple and misleading narratives making their way into the mainstream media. But where many others left the story there, we continued to follow its consequences and connect it with the wider picture.
In the midst of protests we dusted off our local election coverage plans, which had been paused the previous year due to Covid. We wanted to make sure our coverage engaged people in the election, so we decided to put people at the heart of shaping our coverage: by launching our first Bristol Citizens’ Agenda.
The crowdsourced priorities shaped our extensive coverage of 42 pieces of content, including our Bristol Unpacked interviews with candidates, live coverage of the count and live, accessible data, original analysis and community pieces. These articles, videos and podcasts were some of the highest engaged with of the year, proving quality, informative local journalism can be done in an engaging way for local elections.
Behind all our stories is our small, hard working team, which saw some big changes this year, including a farewell to co-founder Alon Aviram, who helped bring the Cable from an idea in a living room in Easton to what it is today. But with fond farewells, we had warm welcomes for four great new colleagues, who have brought new capacity and energy to our communications and outreach, video journalism, reporting and workplace organising.
The money to make all this happen
We’ve come a long way financially from a group of volunteers in 2014 to 8 (equivalent) full time staff. Due to the generous support of members and funders we are in a decent financial position, but we’re facing some challenging times ahead, as grants given to help us get off the ground come to an end, and money raised from members doesn’t yet cover all our costs.
This challenge was the impetus for a recent drive to persuade more people to join the Cable community, leading to 150 more members backing the Cable. Growth spurts like this, and the hundreds of members we welcomed following our Kill the Bill coverage, have been crucial in bringing us further towards sustainability. But we have more to do.
As we look to 2022, we’re looking at applying our learnings from this year into developing our outreach strategy: building more partnerships, putting members at the heart of our organisation, communicating our work and our value clearly and persistently, and of course, reporting the stories that need to be told.
Members shaping our coverage
We believe journalism should make a difference, whether it’s uncovering corruption, or helping someone feel connected to where they live – our journalism should matter.
There’s loads of other things happening in the city that matter to people that we’re not covering. We believe that if we cover more of these things, we will be useful and relevant to more people, they will be more likely to then read our longer investigations, and, we hope, become Cable members.
So at the AGM we opened up this conversation with members, framing the options between doing more culture & community reporting or more regular news reporting. Using the wonders of Zoom breakout rooms, we separated into a dozen small breakout rooms to have deeper discussions on what matters to us about how we expand our reporting.
With only a short break introduced by a fire alarm, we captured a wealth of feedback and thoughts. After the AGM we gathered this feedback and used it directly in the proposals we put to all members about why we should do either option, and what it might look like if we did.
We put this vote out to members online after the AGM to make sure everyone could input on this decision. With over 300 members voting: 46% opted for more culture & community coverage, 51% for more regular news reporting, and 3% for neither.But this wasn’t a simple referendum, as we know the numbers don’t tell the full story. We also asked members why they selected their preference, and if we did it, how it should look.
We’re reading through and analysing the 12,000 words of feedback. With an array of opinions and insights, this will mean making some tough decisions about where to focus our limited resources. More on this in the new year!
Welcoming our new directors
Finally, we said farewell to our outgoing non-executive directors Abdi Mohamed and Kate Oliver, after over 4 years service on the board each, with Kate reflectively looking back on how we’d grown as an organisation over those years, as she helped nurture Governance and its sidekick Policy.
We also saw the election of our new directors, elected from and by the membership to provide guidance and support to the staff team. With 9 candidates standing and 350 members voting online, the competition was tight. We welcomed three new board members, who bring a wealth of skills and experience to the board.
Mandy Rose is Professor of Documentary & Digital Cultures at UWE Bristol and Executive Board member of the Pervasive Media Studio at Watershed, and set up and ran BBC Cymru Wales New Media department.
Mandy said: “I believe that the independent journalism of Bristol Cable is growing more vital than ever – in a context of misinformation, social division and the urgent challenges of climate crisis and social justice. I’d be honoured to support the Bristol Cable, to offer input into the paper’s development and guidance in maximising reach and benefit to the city.”
Yasha Maccanico has over 20 years experience as journalist, researcher and translator, primarily with the British civil liberties charity Statewatch, and has a PhD in Policy Studies from Bristol University.
Yasha said: “I have lived in Bristol for nearly ten years and have been a regular Cable reader and, more recently, a member paying a small contribution. Local grassroots reporting is key to social progress, in my view, and I have seen the Cable as outstanding in reference to issues including coverage of protests, migration, GRT and LGBT+ issues and community self-organisation to address systemic problems that affect us all.”
Nick Plant has over 40 years’ experience of co-ops, NGOs, and campaign groups in a variety of roles, and a career in academic management and lecturing in Information Systems at UWE.
Nick said: “I am a long-standing, enthusiastic Cable member, with a passion for community journalism as an urgent response to our biased public discourse and the domination of the mainstream media. I aim to push the sustainability and impact of Cable, and build co-operation with other co-operatives, to develop our collective power to tell the right stories of hope emerging from the multiple crises faced by Bristolians, humanity and the planet.”
As we look to the 8th year of the Cable, we all have some serious challenges ahead, from covid to sustainable funding. But with the long standing and growing support of members from across Bristol, we’re certain that a new model for media is not only possible, but essential, and happening here.