Campaign to Stop Council Cuts Sends Star & Crescent Global

Editor in Chief, Sarah Cheverton, is speaking to Swedish journalists today about our ‘virtual newsroom’ at an event organised by Digital Identities and supported by Google Newslabs.

This is the first time Star & Crescent has been invited to represent the hyperlocal news sector on an international scale and we’ve been asked to talk about our first social media campaign, some of our successes in building an identity online and how we use social media to attract new writers, sources and submissions to us every day – our ‘virtual newsroom’.

As many readers will remember, one of our biggest successes on social media was the 5 day campaign we ran against proposed cuts to Portsmouth City Council’s domestic violence services earlier this year.

Thanks to the support of our readers, local and national activists and many organisations and groups working to end violence against women, the campaign not only raised awareness of the cuts to local services, but resulted in Portsmouth’s frontline service for victims of domestic violence, the Early Intervention Project, being saved from the proposed cuts until 2017/18.

Our team here at S&C and the many organisations and individuals who worked with us on the campaign were delighted at the results. Along with many other areas of local government and the voluntary sector, services for victims of domestic and sexual violence have been profoundly affected by austerity, which has dramatically changed the delivery of services in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. Following the long campaign fought by local and national activists – of which our 5 day social media push was just a part – the Council agreed to postpone the planned cuts until 2017/18.

However, the victory achieved by local people coming together to campaign against the cuts to services may only be shortlived, as further cuts will undoubtedly be proposed at the next council budget. It remains to be seen whether Portsmouth City Council is willing to engage in partnership with local organisations representing victims and survivors in addressing how savings could be achieved in the future.

The social media campaign also made a lot more people aware of Star & Crescent, which had been running for less than a year at the time. Our core team then consisted of two people – myself and Tom Sykes – working as volunteers in our spare time to bring news, commentary, and creative content to local readers, and in so doing to bring what we believe are missing voices from the local community into the mainstream.

Following the social media campaign, local residents and writers began to contact us in increasing numbers with leads to news stories, satirical images and articles and other submissions. It was one such lead which led us directly to breaking our first S&C exclusive on Smeargate – where local councillor Scott Harris set out a plan to smear a small group of local residents who were opposing council cuts.

Since then our team has grown considerably, both in the real world and in what digital consultant Abhay Adhikari has dubbed our ‘virtual newsroom’.

We now have four core volunteers who work on the website and social media each week, and a growing team in that virtual newsroom: comprising the many local writers we work with online who deliver high quality news and views, and a bank of co-editors who source and edit their work and contribute their own articles and features.

This virtual newsroom is vital for our survival because Star & Crescent refuses to take advertising. Our reason for this is simple: advertising limits the editorial control of our content, leading to journalism that concentrates on recycling press releases (see right) and reproducing the voices of people in power (see most political items in the mainstream local press).

Because we don’t accept advertising, our core challenge is how we can cover our operational costs and eventually pay our outstanding contributors for their hard work.News

We’re currently exploring setting ourselves up as a media cooperative, which would allow our readers to become part owners of Star & Crescent and provide us with a regular income. We’ve also run and participated in local political events like The People’s Symposium from The Futurators at Aspex which have provide us with modest funding.

This is one of many reasons why it’s so exciting, particularly as we are such a young organisation, to be invited to share our experiences with journalists today in Sweden. We’re also honoured to share a platform with speakers like Eliza Anyangwe, founder and editor in chief of The Nzinga Effect, Henrik Ståhl from Swedish finance news site Dagens industri, Matt Cooke from Google News Labs, Kathryn Geels from Ghel Creative and of course, Abhay Adhikari, creator of the Digital Identities programme from Dhyaan Design.

We’re looking forward to learning from our international colleagues and to coming home with some fresh perspectives and new ideas that can help us with our continuing mission to #ReclaimTheNews.

In the meantime, if you want to support Star and Crescent, there are many ways to get involved with us:

Image from Dhyaan Design.