Thursday, June 16, 2005

Where Is The Alternative Press ?

Whatever happened to the idea of an alternative press in Britain? Never has there been a greater need for one. Some would argue that this now exists on the internet and the need for a paper equivalent has passed. I disagree. I think new alternative/underground/counter-culture media are vital if we are to articulate a new vision of a society based on a very different value system from the celebrity and consumer saturated one that seems to hold sway today. Like our political system, where all parties share a small consensus of views with slight differences of opinion here and there, our current print media are woefully inadequate. They're big on irony, stuffed with columnists whose views are largely a waste of time, just more noise in the system. The news they cover is obviously a tiny fraction of what is going on in the world in any one day. Like the tv channels, they are fighting for ratings and audience. Their high-minded pontification on various subjects strikes a false note and seems to have little to do with the reality of life in the UK as it is experienced by most citizens. They're not big on optimism, either, or on positive developments. Rather we are presented a picture of the world which is uniformly depressing. The BBC seems to have become more and more a kind of nanny channel which is producing programming that just seems to be there to reinforce government agendas. Once great magazines are now just further channels for consumerist pap. Sex sells everything. Nothing is questioned. Genuine alternative voices are derided, caricatured and marginalised with a few notable exceptions.

(Phew! glad to get that lot off my chest, as was the Archbishop of Canterbury I should think in his just-published speech 'This Media Tribe Disfigures Public Life' )

I am old enough to remember the days of the 'underground/ alternative press of the 60s/70s and, in fact, cut my journalistic teeth there, starting by wrapping newspapers and ending up as acting editor of Frendz by default as all the previous editorial staff had left. Frendz was one of a number of national papers and mags including International Times (IT), OZ, Ink, Seven Days, Time Out and many more provincial and specialist mags and rags that were unavailable in W.H.Smith's. Many were distributed to smaller newsagents by the distributor Moore Harness or by a fleet of men in white vans, who supplied alterantive bookshops and outlets and individual sellers in towns and cities across the land. Huge numbers were sold at festivals and underground events. These UK magazines had links with similar publication throughout Europe and the US through the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) which allowed original news material to be reproduced by other member newspapers. Hence the word was spread.

I remain convinced that a new alternative newspaper would find a ready audience, could be distributed in similar ways and could find the advertising support. As chance would have it, I was musing on this subject whilst cruising round Ladbroke Grove and happened to call into Rough Trade where I found living, breathing examples of exactly what I had in mind.

Arthur is a free newspaper distributed throughout the US and Canada, with a small number of copies coming to the UK. Copies available through the web using PayPal. I have spoken on the phone and corresponded with the two guys behind it - one on the East Coast, one on the West - and they are keen to get the paper established in the UK. Its a great production, largely music-based but with some social/political material. Tabloid in format, full colour on newsprint. Imaginative and full of interesting outsider record company advertising.

The Stool Pigeon is a homegrown equivalent, a marvellous A3 newsprint paper of imaginative design, full of the worlds of alternative music that you won't hear about any other place soon. They don't have a website but you can reach them at PO BOX 52129, London E2 7XY.

Editor Phil Hebblethwaite writes: 'We will be putting a website up soon, but it's not a priority. We prefer paper. New issue out July 5 in London, and across the nation the week after. Available in all good independent record stores, bars and cafes that contain people with unusual haircuts, all Fopps, ex ceter rah ex cet er rah.'

UPDATE: According to The Media Guardian (17.6.05): 'Hebblethwaite and Mickey Gibbons (art director) are so enthused and so determined not to borrow any money, that they edit, sell ads and distribute the paper themselves - driving up to Aberdeen in a van with 60,000 copies in the back and working their way down the country's record and bookshops over a two-week period.'

Bulb is a radical youth magazine that describes itself as 'bright ideas from the underground.' It's globalisation centred and deserves a wide readership. Its run by Bulb Media co-operative, a member of Co-operativesUK. According to : 'After talking to teens round the country, Bulb Media say they discovered something most magazines haven't: teenagers aren't stupid they do care. Forty-seven percent of those interviewed placed global issues (trade justice, corporate greed) in their top three interests.' For a review of this and other global/fair trade mags see: Summit to Read in Edinburgh by Duncan Campbell.

New discoveries await me I hope.

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