Journalism Matters: the value of Campaigning Journalism in Britain and the example of The Bristol Cable 

By Luciana Gurgel | MediaTalks, London 

The British tradition of campaigning journalism was highlighted in the annual News Media Association’s campaign, in a year in which the media was so instrumental in informing and engaging the population during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Even Queen Elizabeth has praised newspapers, despite the legendary persecution of the royals by the tabloids.  In a letter to mark a week she wrote: 

“The Covid-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated what an important public service the established news media provides, both nationally and regionally”. 

“As our world has changed dramatically, having trusted, reliable sources of information, particularly at a time when there are so many sources competing for our attention, is vital”. 

The Prime Minister also expressed his support: 

For those who are not so familiar with the reality of other countries it may sound strange to highlight public support by the Queen and by the Prime Minister. It should be natural.

But it isn’t. In many countries across the world leaders are in a permanent fight with the press and undermine its role, instead of supporting it in public. 

Campaigning journalism is also not a practice in many countries. The organised effort around a cause is powerful. There are many examples on how it can be effective to transform the society. 

A remarkable one was the campaign around the thalidomide, held by the late editor Harold Evans, who left a mark in the history of campaigning journalism.

Making a Difference 

As part of the initiative of the News Media Association,  an online vote was held to determine which local and national campaigns from the past year are the public’s favourites.

Two  campaigns – Power Up The North and Helen’s Law – have won the local and national awards for 2020.

Power Up The North was a collaborative campaign run by regional newspapers in the north of England calling for an end to the widening of the divide between the north and south in England  the winning Making a Difference entry was submitted by The Yorkshire Post).

 

The Daily Mirror ran the Helen’s Law campaign in support of a grieving mother to ensure that the perpetrators who refuse to reveal the location of their victims’ bodies are not granted parole from life sentences.

No matter who the winner was, the shortlisted campaigns (the can be seen here) are a demonstration on the power of journalism to transform the society. 

“Campaigning journalism, done well, is one such essential tool in efforts to show that journalism really matters”

In an article published in the Global Investigative Journalism Network, Adam Cantwell-Cornthe co-founder of The Bristol Cable – winner of the British JournalismAward 2019 in the category of local news – explores how campaigning journalism emerges as one of the solutions to convince readers to pay for content, one of the biggest challenges of the news industry. 

He quoted a former deputy editor of the Daily Mail: 

Any newspaper worth its salt in the modern age should know the key ingredients of a good campaign.” 

And defended how campaigning journalism can contribute to the media sustainability: 

“In an era characterized by the search for sustainable models for journalism and reader revenue, and the ever-deafening cacophony of the online space, media organizations are seeking to demonstrate their unique value and engage their audiences. Campaigns offer an opportunity for public interest journalism to make the news we consume more empowering, and allow journalists to stake a strong case for why it matters, and deserves their support.”

He defined what campaigning journalism is about: 

“I would characterize it as dogged reporting with a strong editorial line that seeks to make a powerful combination that can deliver tangible impact for readers and communities at large. We are not talking here about US-style “campaign coverage,” which is routine beat reporting on politicians running for office. In the US and other countries, campaigning journalism might be called advocacy or cause journalism.

And highlighted examples in Britain: 

” The Daily Mail’s long-running role in the campaign for justice for themurder of Stephen Lawrence and The Guardian’s 2015 Keep It in the Ground campaign on fossil fuel divestment, as well as many others.

The Bristol Cable 

The Bristol Cable (print an online) has an interesting model that can inspire other local media across the world. It presents itself as “it’s not your average newspaper”.

Was founded in  2014, by volunteers, through organising and crowdfunding with local communities in Bristol.

It has 2,100 members, and rely also on the support of foundations and not-for-profit organisations to survive. 

The Cable is owned as a reader cooperative. Te staff is run as a worker co-operative. There’s also a board of non-executive directors, who are directly elected by members.  

The message is strong:

“Together, we hold power to account through groundbreaking investigations, we campaign for change, and we amplify marginalised voices. We are rooted in local communities, but part of a global movement to reinvent local media”.

While the media looks for new models, this seems to be an inspiring one.  

It may not be the solution for all. But may be the solution for regional and local media – the ones more affected by the pandemic. 

 


 

Luciana Gurgel is a Brazilian journalist based in London. She begun her editorial career at O Globo, one of the leading Brazilian media organisations. Later she founded (along with Aldo de Luca) Publicom, a successful corporate communications agency, acquired in 2016 by Weber Shandwick (IPG Group). In London, she has been working as news correspondent for Brazilian media – MyNews Channel, J&Cia – to which she writes a weekly column on trends and issue related to the news industry. The column originated  a separate platform, MediaTalks, headed by Luciana from London as Editor-in-Chief, in association with Jornalistas Editora.