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Your Paper Needs You during the coronavirus lockdown

TWO months ago as the Morning Star implemented remote working I outlined some of the challenges that the lockdown would pose for the Morning Star.

With people advised to stay at home, shop sales of the paper have fallen sharply as they have across the print industry. Hundreds of publications are making cuts and many have furloughed large numbers of staff. 

The crisis hits a sector already in decline: newspaper sales have been falling for years and many proprietors have responded by cutting quality journalism, especially at local papers, where many have closed entirely and others have seen news teams merged into regional hubs, each producing a number of different local papers – denying many areas a genuinely local media voice with a serious impact on democracy at town and county level. The loss of local media jobs has also removed a route into national journalism for working-class people, meaning the editorial staff and opinion writers at national papers are more than ever drawn from the richest sections of the population.

The National Union of Journalists has called for a News Recovery Plan to help prevent Covid-19 doing permanent damage to the British news industry but also to address some of these longer-term trends. “This is not and cannot be about the preservation of the status quo. The emergency intervention needed now can only be the first steps towards a news reimagined,” general secretary Michelle Stanistreet has said. It calls for measures linking any access to public funds with responsible behaviour by management (“no public money for firms making redundancies, cutting pay, giving executive bonuses or blocking trade-union organisation”) as well as for funding measures such as targeted government advertising to support papers and voucher schemes to encourage newspaper readership.

The government has actually stepped in on the advertising front – buying wraparound advertising in papers to promote its messaging on how to behave during the pandemic. Newspapers including The Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail with their super-rich proprietors have all benefited from this hefty injection of public cash. 

There’s one national daily that wasn’t offered the advertising though. Given over 600 national and local titles across Britain have been included in the scheme, the failure to ask the daily paper of the left to carry its adverts is unlikely to be mere oversight.

Perhaps we at the Morning Star should be proud that Boris Johnson – one of whose first acts when he became mayor of London was to drop the Morning Star from City Hall’s daily newspaper order – is so hostile to the only English-language socialist daily paper in the world that we’ve been deliberately shut out of government help.

And at times we’ve felt, as when the Tories changed their line from Stay at Home to the unhelpful Stay Alert and plastered their confusing new mantra over all the major papers bar our own and the Financial Times, that we might not have wanted to carry their advice even if we had been offered it.
 
But it can’t be denied that it has made a difficult period worse. As I wrote in March, the Morning Star not only faces falling sales during the pandemic, but a serious loss of advertising related to labour movement events, lost bulk sales via unions to such events and to their offices, lost street sales and cancelled fundraisers.
 
 With a small staff whose workload has increased rather than decreased now that production has to be managed remotely, we have not been in a position to furlough workers, so the paper costs no less to run than normal. And our readers know we have always been run on a shoestring.
 
We have made every effort to produce a high-quality socialist newspaper under new conditions and I think we have reason to be proud of the Morning Star’s coverage of the pandemic. 
 
Only our paper has placed the safety of workers and the public at the heart of our reporting. The amazing work being done by trade unions to protect their members amid PPE shortages, sloppy attention to health and safety by management and attempts to dragoon staff back into workplaces with inadequate protection needs to be promoted and supported across our movement. We stand shoulder to shoulder with teachers and their trade unions in the crucial fight to stop schools reopening before it is safe.

We have highlighted the devastating effect that privatisation and cuts have had on public services and procurement, contributing to Britain’s dire handling of the pandemic, and have also looked at international responses – from the medical assistance rushed to where it has been most needed by China and Cuba, to the way the US government has left its people to suffer the highest death toll in the world while blocking medical aid from and tightening sanctions on other countries.

But we need your help to keep doing that. I’m well aware that the Morning Star has only just run one appeal – the £90,000 for our 90th anniversary appeal launched at last autumn’s TUC. Many of you contributed generously to that appeal – which to date has raised a fantastic £81,917.93, not bad at all especially considering that since it launched we also managed to exceed our annual Fighting Fund target for 2019 and have just exceeded May’s target early.

We hoped to get to £90k and announce our victory in grand style. We hoped for quite a lot of things including a major public celebration of our 90 years this autumn. The pandemic has interfered with many of these plans, though we have been talking to readers and supporters about online events. But circumstances force us to launch a new appeal.

One of the purposes of the 90th anniversary appeal was above all to replace our aged and increasingly unreliable office equipment and to update our software licences for use with new computers. That’s all been done and the shift to working remotely could have been a total failure if it hadn’t been. But the new problem we face is an income shortfall of approximately £30,000 a month from all causes during lockdown.

Amazing work by so many of you and by friends and comrades in the labour movement means we have survived our first two months in lockdown in reasonable shape, but now we need to raise that shortfall over the next three months, raising another £90,000 by the end of August. It’s a huge ask but seeing the efforts being put into fundraising around the country I think we can do it. Watch this space.

Donations to the appeal can be made at 

  • morningstaronline.co.uk/page/your-paper-needs-you
  • By cheque made payable to The People’s Press Society and send it to: The Morning Star appeal, William Rust House, 52 Beachy Road, London, E3 2NS
  • Bank transfer to Payee: The People’s Press Society Account, Bank: The Co-operative Bank PLC Bank Branch: Islington Sort Code: 089033 Account Number: 50505115, Reference: Appeal

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