Why did you join Co-op News?
After working in the charity and private sectors, I wanted to join a media outlet that had values and ethics at its core, and a sense of responsibility to the people whose stories it told. I was aware of co-ops through retailers such as Unicorn Grocery Workers Co-operative in Chorlton, and the radical bookshop News From Nowhere in Liverpool, as well as the Co-op Group’s food stores, funeral homes and pharmacies. When I joined, my role combined researching, writing, editing and designing – but also going out to meet the people and organisations we write about, and hearing their stories. It was – and still is – a real privilege to do that, and see how co-operatives impact people and communities for the better.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
Overseeing the redesign of Co-op News to its current format. For most of the 20th century, Co-op News was in a larger format. At one point it was weekly, with different regional editions – and it was still fortnightly to the end of 2016. After a lot of research and development with members, and friends and colleagues throughout the movement, we relaunched in 2014 with a smaller size and new logo. Last year we transitioned to monthly publication and tweaked the logo to incorporate the COOP marque. The feedback has been remarkable. The print and digital content work much better in terms of curating news stories alongside case studies, analysis, Q&As, investigations and pieces of best practice from a uniquely co-operative angle.
I am also proud of how our digital agenda has developed in conjunction with this, including a strong social media presence and digital membership option. [Outgoing executive editor] Anthony Murray led on this and I would like to pay tribute to the fantastic work he achieved over his 16 years with the News.
Co-op News is published by a co-operative – the Co-op Press. What is your co-operative difference?
Co-op News has been going for nearly 150 years. As a result of this longevity and the tireless work of my 15 predecessors, the organisation has a deep awareness of what co-ops are to different people and communities, and how they fit together – both with other co-operatives and outside the movement. We are uniquely placed to celebrate successes and champion co-op causes. But we can also challenge co-ops when needed; our difference is that we are wholly independent, and can therefore be critical. We would be a bad friend to the movement if it was perceived that a co-operative – or co-operator – was doing something in an unco-operative way and we did not call them out.
Our relationship with the international movement is also a point of difference, and one of the reasons we have focused so much on digital. Globally, one in every six people is a member of a co-op. That’s a lot of stories to tell – but we have the knowledge, support and contacts to do that, and do it well.
What are the challenges ahead?
There are over 3 million co-ops globally – that’s a lot of news to cover! So the biggest challenges for us are around curating the right balance of content in print and online for a hugely diverse audience, from retail executives to worker co-op activists, from colleagues to interested parties. This is one of the reasons we have restructured the team here. Our international journalist Anca Voinea will be taking on more responsibility as international editor, while Miles Hadfield, who has over 25 years of experience in journalism, will be digital editor.
Another challenge is the news industry itself. Printing a magazine, not to mention the huge amount of activity behind producing the content, is expensive. The majority of our income is through a combination of advertising and subscriptions, and we are working on strategies to develop these and look beyond them.
Where Would You Like to See the Co-op News in the next five years?
Co-operatives are becoming more mainstream, not just seen as an alternative – I would like Co-op News to follow this trajectory too. We have a unique offering which many in the movement are not aware of. Part of this will be extending our digital and international work, and part will be taking more opportunities to go out and visit the people and the co-operatives whose stories it is our privilege to tell.