150 Issues of HIP!
What sort of newspaper are you reading?
The Hastings Independent is in its sixth year and 150 issues later Poppy Prescott looks back on how it started and what it hopes to achieve for the Hastings and St Leonards community.
In its early days I was a teenager, watching the newspaper grow, silently admiring its efforts but too insecure to join. I knew it was started by local Hastings people who at the time were mostly unemployed, below the age of 35 and with little to no prior experience in journalism. It was exciting to have a new physical newspaper put together by ordinary people which seemed radical and different.
When I got to university and was studying journalism, I realised even more clearly how precious it was. It had the stuff you need: good investigative reporting, editorial independence and the stuff you always wanted in your paper; naughty poems, the type of coverage local artists need, unpretentious writing. And it was all for free. I realised there had never been much research into community-run print news. They fall through the cracks because they are hard to come by, usually only appreciated by a small community and deemed not worthy of an outsider’s attention. I decided HIP would be the focus of my dissertation project. I wanted to know what drove the founders to start a newspaper, how they mobilised such a strong team of volunteers to produce one fortnightly and, most importantly, what HIP’s roles were within the community and how these differed from those of other local newspapers. I interviewed the founders, the designer and seven of the section editors. To celebrate the incredible achievement of 150 issues of HIP, I’d like to share a brief summary of the answers I found at HIP’s beginning. Perhaps you’ll be drawn in like I was.
“Shall we start our own newspaper?”
HIP was created out of anger, frustration and a passion for a different kind of news model. I spoke to the three founders, who all said they were unhappy with the quality of local press coverage at the time. One founder felt that the only thing they got out of it was “to find out which one of my mates went to jail”. To them, this negative coverage misrepresented the town and lacked the sense of community a newspaper should have. When one of the founders did some digging and found out that all the local media in Hastings was owned by one company, which had deliberately shut down all of the competing titles a few years earlier, it spurred them on.
It was the coverage of a sensitive case involving a local resident which was the final catalyst for the creation of HIP. A group was formed on Facebook encouraging the boycott of local media and meetings were held to sort out the problem. One founder told me that it was being discussed in a Hastings Anarchists meeting when he had the idea: “I made an off-the-cuff comment just going shall we start our own newspaper?” Another person present commented: “Everyone said he was bonkers”.
Giving voice to the people of Hastings
That lit the fire. What happens when under-served citizens take matters into their own hands, surpass the traditional conventions and start their own newspaper?
The founders all wanted HIP to address what they thought was often missing in local news and provide positive coverage, constructive news analysis, and serve the community as a platform for their voices.
“It can tackle serious issues, but it needs to have that positivity,” said one founder. From the start, they agreed that sensationalism and the endless reporting of petty crime was something they would avoid.
One function of HIP kept cropping up. A founder said the ultimate motivation was to “give a voice to people in Hastings”. Another agreed: “It’s a platform, a megaphone, something to amplify the voices in the community.” When asked what the community would lose if HIP stopped tomorrow, the third founder answered: “It would lose a voice for a start.”
They all said they wanted it to be an “alternative” news source and widen the media plurality in the town. One founder said: “Very rarely does any newspaper challenge anything anymore and I wanted to give an alternative perspective that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.”
HIP was created out of anger, frustration and a passion for a different kind of news model
This sense of ‘localness’ and serving the community was crucial. I asked each founder if there was something that they hoped HIP could contribute to the community more so than anything else, and all felt that the most meaningful role it could play was providing opportunities otherwise unavailable. They were determined to focus on promoting local businesses and opening up access to training in journalism and media.
They chose to set HIP up as a social enterprise which meant it’s committed to serving the community. HIP has social objectives, the ‘HIP constitution’ – long gone are the days of anarchist meetings.
As a news production social enterprise, these are the objectives:
• to address local social issues
• to provide opportunities for employment, education and the media industry
• to promote the arts
• to promote citizenship
The founders said HIP not only wanted to tackle producing news more competently, but provide economic and social opportunities that would improve the lives and skills of as many individuals in Hastings as they could. Their ethos of ‘by the community, for the community’ came up many times with contributors and the contributors’ roles seems to evolve as the newspaper does.
“Authority is not something that’s assigned, it’s something they earn”
Academics and community journalists have a lot to say about the conceptual ideas behind community news, but records of the day-to-day business of a print non-profit community-run newspaper like HIP are hard to find or map out. I found it striking that HIP manages to operate effectively even though it relies on volunteers and has no reliable income. HIP’s sales coordinator said that while the model ensures its independence, it also maintains its fragility. Having worked for years in commercial publishing before joining HIP, the sales coordinator said that with traditional news models: “It’s all about the money and the shareholders. A paper that’s free of the money hasn’t got a board, it can think for itself.”
HIP seemed to attract rebels. On the topic of its organisational structure, one section editor said: “I suspect what I like about it is that nobody tells me what to do.” Another observed that at HIP: “Authority is not something that’s assigned; it’s something they earn.”
Many of the contributors used the words “inclusive” and “democratic” to describe the horizontal structure and decision-making-by-consensus in HIP. Most mentioned that this was cemented by rotating the sign-off editor every issue, having weekly meetings open to anyone, and that it’s therefore very accessible. One editor said: “The second or third time I went, they said: ‘Does anyone feel like doing features?’z And I thought I’d really like to
get stuck in here so I just put my hand up.”
“If it’s between being a professional and amateur, it’s kind of a lot easier for us to be amateurs.”
At the time, only two of HIP’s contributors had experience as journalists, but many said that collectively, they make it work by using their own experiences to help each other. Some of the contributors with no previous experience have produced some of the best investigative work. Those who were born in Hastings or are involved in different communities here get stories or catch things that are easily missed. Most felt HIP’s work is more reflective of the community than most professional journalists’ work.
Contributors also spoke fondly of the content which was both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ in that it “united” the community: “It’s for gig nights, listings, it is someone who wants to share their recipe, have their art reviewed, a story about local council corruption”.
Some contributors were worried that if HIP becomes less ‘citizen’ and more ‘professional’ and eventually pays its staff, it could threaten the dynamic and ethos of volunteers producing news. One founder said: “There are a lot of journalists in Hastings that won’t write for HIP because they won’t get paid and I think, well yeah sod them.” However, another founder added: “If that’s your profession, you shouldn’t be asked to do it for free.” There’s a difference of opinion on what direction the newspaper should take when they’re pressed, but most at HIP are more focused on producing the next issue. Throughout the different directions the newspaper has taken, the survival of the newspaper is the upmost priority for everyone.
Flash forward: when I joined HIP, we started thinking of ways to train more news reporters. HIP recently had its first training session in investigative reporting by the Centre of Investigative Journalism (TCIJ), which was also open to A-level Hastings college students. Once the world is back on track and it’s safe to do so, HIP and TCIJ will be hosting an all-day training session in data journalism open to the public.
I joined HIP soon after I finished my research and I’ve been features editor for eight happy months. Having now been on the team, it seems a lot simpler. It’s just a group of people who care about Hastings and care about the communities within it, using whatever skills they have. As we look to the future of HIP, I would love its team to become more diverse and therefore its stories reflect that, and I hope we become more actively involved in community organisation.
Get involved, send us a lead, join us, write a letter, send us that good picture you took on the weekend, become a Friend, write a poem, do anything. My hat’s off to everyone who got HIP to Issue 150 and here’s to many more!
local media gets hip
By PETE DONOHUE
the day local media got hip
was born out of disillusion
with what a small group of us saw
as blatant misrepresentation
of tight-knit community cohesion
in a town of creative compassion
which vultures of mainstream media
sensationalised as is the fashion
with bad news & fatuous conjecture
trivia & cultural chasms
til a one-sided story too far
spurred our hip heroes into action
let’s start up our own newspaper
what could we possibly lose
only our own time & money
& we’ve already lit the fuse
so a gathering soon came about
in the hub of a pub called the tub
where plans were discussed & agreed
in a sharing of tears sweat & blood
we knew little of media production
business layout design
distribution & adverts
we would learn all that stuff over time
the important thing is the message
speaking out for the real hastings
in a way that is true to the town
inclusive honest ground-breaking
so we started with sixteen pages
funded by friends & well-wishers
we wrote & we took some pictures
found ourselves a printers
our skills were naïve & nascent
but we laid our hearts on the line
took advice where we could find it
taught ourselves indesign
when the first issue hit the streets
it was immediately well received
inspiring new volunteers
to a press that the public believed
pagination is now twenty-four
with community-driven news
all-inclusive local culture
& a range of political views
volunteers come & go
we have no editor-in-chief
just a dedicated band of newshounds
with ambition passion belief
we celebrate issue one hundred
& our four & a half year trip
with the joy of collective achievement
now that local media is hip.
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.