The stereotypical image of a newspaper editor is a middle-aged, weary figure making big calls throughout a long day in the office, as bright eyed and bushy tailed reporters vie for their attention and approval.
But at the Bristol Cable, we don’t have an editor in the traditional sense. Not only have we ditched the short sleeve shirts and trilbies, but also hierarchical decision making. Instead, we make decisions as an editorial team of four.
The Cable is organised as a cooperative, which means we run the organisation as a group. Some people have specialised roles with more responsibility, and the editorial team is no different. I may be ‘the editor’ – we decided it was still worth having a named, visible figure who people can contact – but it’s a bit of a misnomer, really.
While I take more leadership over the strategy underpinning our journalism, chair meetings and hold some management responsibilities, I’m not calling the shots. Instead of shooting down pitches from reporters during editorial meetings, we discuss the ideas together and try to reach a consensus.
I think this way of doing things is great, allowing less experienced journalists to have a say and for half-baked ideas to be shaped and honed by the collective. Sometimes disagreements arise and discussions can be lengthy, but it helps the Cable produce the challenging, nuanced, and in-depth journalism that we’re known for.
Obviously a good editor listens to colleagues rather than stamping their authority for the sake of it, but I think the decisions we make benefit from the combined knowledge, insight and experience in the room. Beyond the perspectives of our four journalists and the rest of the staff team, we also regularly consult freelancers and our 2,500+ members about thorny editorial issues, which is a core part of the Cable’s membership model.
Cooperative organising doesn’t mean everyone doing everything, either – that would be chaos. While every journalist on the team is expected to write stories and contribute to discussions and decision making, we each have our own specialisms, from investigative reporting to leading multimedia and organising the production of our magazine.
One advantage of this model of working is the freedom for younger journalists to take on responsibility, pursue stories they truly care about and have a say from the off about editorial direction. For me joining as a junior reporter in 2018, the Cable’s model allowed me to work on long investigations, manage complicated projects, collaborate with colleagues old and new, and gather a range of experiences.
Another important value in how we organise is trying to create a culture of care. Journalism can be a pretty brutal environment at times: from covering harrowing events, to your editor breathing down your neck, or navigating legal risks and complex ethical considerations. At the Cable, we try to reduce this pressure where we can and provide space for journalists to explore ideas and vent about the stresses and strains of the job.
The Cable has a long way to go to perfect a new model for local media, but collaboration, collective-decision making and a culture of care are all important ingredients to making journalism a better industry.
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