The story of left-wing media in the UK is one of past glories like Reynolds News and the Daily Herald and more recent disasters such as the infamous News On Sunday in 1987.
Only two progressive newspapers have survived — and both gazed into the abyss a couple of weeks ago.
The 74-year-old Tribune was saved at the eleventh hour thanks to a consortium of staff, management and NUJ representatives, who are now taking a co-operative route to survival for the newspaper supported by giants like Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot.
But, for the team at the almost equally stricken Morning Star, the co-operative way forward is nothing new.
Only a matter of weeks ago it looked as though the sun was finally to set on the Star. Editorial staff at the left’s only daily newspaper in the UK were told it would definitely close unless around £50,000 could be raised by Christmas.
However, the good news is that, thanks to a concerted campaign, the original fund-raising target has not only been reached but £70,000 has been raised to help guarantee the paper’s survival into 2012 and beyond.
Editor Bill Benfield, appointed in 2009 after serving as Deputy Editor, is understandably delighted at the show of solidarity from readers but acknowledges a lot more work remains to be done to secure the paper’s long-term future.
“The response to our appeal was astonishing. The money was raised almost entirely through individuals in little over a week. Donations ranged from £5 to £1,000 and some of the money came from trade unions but the vast majority of donations were individual ones.”
Founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker, the publication was re-branded as the Morning Star in 1966. Since 1945, it has been run by a co-operative — the People’s Press Printing Society.
For just £1, anyone can become a shareholder and the society has thousands of members across the UK.
Mr Benfield said: “Because of our shareholder numbers we have four AGMs in locations including London, Scotland and Manchester and I go to every one. They are all one member, one vote. There is an editorial board but there are no block votes.
“The society has always been run on co-operative principles and we would very much like a closer relationship with the wider Co-op Movement.”
A dwindling body of opinion may still believe the Star is still funded by “Moscow Gold” or toes a line dictated by the Communist Party of Great Britain.
But as former editor John Haylett said recently: “We have articles from people that at one time we would never have given the time of day to — like the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists, the Greens, and regular contributions from church people.
“But things that happened in the Soviet Union 70 years ago are still being used as a stick to beat the Morning Star.”
For now, Bill Benfield and his team have their work cut out building on the appeal’s success. He said: “The basic problem is that we exist as a daily paper of the left in David Cameron’s dream world. It costs £1.5million a year to run the paper and, with a print run of only 14,000 to 20,000, we have to rely on regular donations to keep going.
“We also have a problem with distribution because, even if we get there, the big sellers like WH Smith send the unsold papers back.
“We have no advertising budget and our distribution problems go back to the days of the Wapping dispute in 1986 when newspaper distribution swapped from rail freight to lorries.
“We distribute with a consortium of small–size publications so we are subject to delays and hold-ups in a hostile sales environment. It is very challenging.”
Of the paper’s former links with the USSR, he said: “In the past we did have funding from the former Soviet Union. It consisted of them paying for about 12,000 extra copies at a time for use in English language schools and colleges. It did help us out financially but led also to those old jokes about articles on tractor production.”
Those days are long gone, he added. “We are now an editorially independent paper which represents a wide range of opinion on the left.”
In the months ahead, Bill Benfield hopes the Co-op Movement can help deliver a more secure future for the paper — via better retail distribution or help in raising awareness. “The Co-op could do a lot to help us and we would love to be in a closer relationship with the sector. For example it would be good to have a regular Co-op column in the Star.”
Bill concedes that many people these days choose to read the Morning Star online — the website, morningstaronline.co.uk, started life in 2004 with a rather primitive paywall in place, but has since become a free access site. However, as he points out: “Our Christmas appeal alone has justified the website’s existence because most of the money was raised online via the site and other social networking.”
It is also hoped trade unions can help broaden the Star’s readership by facilitating sales at branch meetings. Free copies funded by the unions are already given away at events like the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Labour Party Conference. That particular strategy is something Bill thinks could well be developed.
“In a very political situation like this one we should be well up on our sales but it also depends on the goodwill of the Co-op and wider labour movement because they can do a lot to help us,” said Mr Benfield.
But, he added: “We also need reliable distribution and to be able to stand on our own two feet commercially, so we will be doing our best to ensure that happens.”