The UK’s growing network of local media co-ops has welcomed another publication onto the scene this year with the launch of the Great Central Gazette in Leicester.
Managing editor Rhys Everquill moved to Leicester eight years ago to study at De Montfort University and has called the city home ever since. “It’s a great city,” he says. “It’s vibrant, it’s got a great city centre, and its surrounding neighbourhoods. It’s full of culture. It’s one of the most diverse cities in the UK.”
Leicester also has its problems, he adds. “I won’t lie, especially in the last year – there have been issues around community cohesion and the political situation. But all of that is made up for by how welcoming everybody is.
“I don’t think I’ll be leaving any time soon.”
The Great Central Gazette is a multi-stakeholder co-op, with both journalists and readers making up its membership. Everquill runs the Gazette alongside commissioning editor Emma Guy and communications coordinator Megan Lupton.
Guy and Everquill both took Channel 4’s investigative journalism degree course at De Montfort, and last year Everquill approached her with the idea for the Gazette.
Lupton joined the team last year during its crowdfunder, where the group raised over £2600 to kickstart their project, including building an accessible website without advertising.
Part of the motivation to set up the Gazette came from a dissatisfaction with Leicester’s corporately owned local news offering, the Leicester Mercury, which Everquill says is “driven by ad revenue and clicks to its website, rather than serving the community”.
He adds: “As time went on, it was revealed that people wanted longer, more well thought out journalism, rather than the newsy content that the local daily does.
“So we didn’t want to compete with news directly. We didn’t want to just copy their format and publish everything really, really fast. We committed to doing high quality, slow journalism instead – and that seems to be working really well.”
Recent stories from the Gazette include an investigation into Leicester City Football club’s ties to the gambling industry, and a story highlighting the racist and religious discrimination a local Sikh family was facing.
“We got really good reactions from them,” says Everquill. “And it was brilliant seeing those reactions and seeing people rally around these pieces.”
Another investigation looking at unanswered 101 calls to the police offered the Gazette an opportunity to draw on its members and wider community.
“We wanted examples of people who had not been able to get through or got through and then the police response was pretty bad,” says Everquill. “So we put callouts on our website, we spoke to our members and we got some really good anecdotes and case studies that we featured in the final article. And I think that’s been our most successful way of using the community and their expertise.”
This kind of active involvement of members is something that drew the Gazette to the co-op model, he adds.
“With all the complaints people had about the Leicester Mercury, the co-operative model just added the extra level of transparency, both [with regard to] funding, but also how our stories are created – things like callouts on our website and involving our members and the wider community in the creation of our stories as much as possible. We always want to do more of that, but what we have done so far has been really successful, and it’s showing that our hypothesis was correct.”
The Gazette’s inaugural AGM is set to take place next year, and the co-op elected its board in November. “We decided to go through elections earlier last month, because we had some gaps on the board and we felt like we needed expertise,” says Everquill, “but equally we didn’t just want to co-opt people.
“We thought it would be a good test of running elections online, but also, it’s that co-op aspect of giving people a say over how the Gazette’s run. We ended up filling all the roles on the board, so we were well chuffed with that.”
As well as the democratic involvement of the local community, the Great Central Gazette has also been living principle six, co-operation among co-ops, since it launched.
The Gazette received a small grant from Central Co-op to cover start-up costs, as well as funding to cover the recent local elections from Midcounties, which has just committed over £3,000 to fund the publication’s coverage of the upcoming general election.
In addition to this, the Great Central Gazette is working on a joint bid to the National Lottery with local media co-ops across the country, under the banner of the Community Media Collective.
“We hope that’s successful,” says Everquill, “and I think if it is, it’ll be such a good example of principle six bringing [together] media co-ops in the country. It will be such a good thing for the independent media sector as well.”
The Gazette is also a member of the Independent Media Association, where Everquill holds a part-time role as a community organiser.
“That is a great example of a secondary co-op working to connect not just media co-ops but the whole independent media sector in the UK.”
Beyond the co-operative world, the Gazette places itself in a wider movement of ethical consumerism.
“I’m a big ethical consumer,” says Rhys.” Everyday decisions I make are directed by ethical consumerism. And when it comes to the Gazette, in terms of our procurement and suppliers, I always suggest to the team the ethical choice – the local or regional option, family-run businesses, open-source technologies, and working with charities and things of that nature.
“I think our services are innately ethical. We’re not doing this for profit. We have social and environmental goals that we stand by and we’re big supporters of that.”
You can donate to support the Great Central Gazette here