The New Internationalist was launched as a monthly magazine in 1973. Its forerunner was The Internationalist, sent termly to members of the student development organisation Third World First, now People & Planet.
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To some people, the idea of a magazine on development seemed doomed to failure. After all, magazines that told you ‘useful’ things like how to convert your loft into a bedroom or how to stay young and healthy did not always succeed even though they had a clear appeal to people’s self-interest.
Yet there was a market for a magazine about world issues. In the early 1970s, probably highlighted by the Vietnam war and the newly-independent nations, people’s attention was turning to the relationship between the West and the developing countries. The liberation struggles in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia; the death of President Allende in Chile; China under Mao Zedong and Cuba with Castro; Nyerere’s brand of socialism in Tanzania; the ‘Green Revolution’ (high-yielding varieties of grains), and the ‘trickle down’ theory of economic growth: these were some of the things that people wanted to know more about.
The New Internationalist - with its strap line ‘the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for world development’ - offered its readers a radical analysis of rich-poor world relationships, looking critically at the effects of aid programmes, for example, and providing a refreshing alternative to the mainstream development and news channels.
Two major UK aid agencies, Oxfam and Christian Aid, wanted to encourage more people to understand the processes of ‘development’. Simply giving to ‘charity’ was not enough. This point was driven home in l969 when the Labour Government cut overseas aid by more than the total raised by Oxfam and Christian Aid since their inception, with hardly any public outcry. The idea of a monthly magazine to discuss and debate development issues in a readable way was attractive. So the two agencies came together and formed a new publishing company, Devopress, with a subvention of £50,000 for the period l973 - l976. Devopress comprised three Christian Aid directors and three from Oxfam. The board took a lively interest in the editorial and marketing of the magazine, although the editorial line was independent.
Early issues of the New Internationalist included features on the Tan-Zam railway in Tanzania, interviews with President Kaunda of Zambia and Bishop Helder Camara in Brazil; Vietnam, drought in the Sahel, and the legacy of Che Guevara. It was an issue of the NI‚ in August l973, that first drew attention to the irresponsible marketing of baby milk in the Third World by multinational companies.
From the outset the New Internationalist was aiming at self-sufficiency. It was vigorously promoted and its circulation grew steadily. But in l975 things began to teeter: the effects of the 1973 oil crisis pushed up prices; inflation bit. The magazine (virtually all on subscription) very nearly folded when postal charges doubled in the space of one year.
Letters were written to organisations and friends warning them that the NI would close in l976 unless it received financial help. Fortunately, enough groups felt the magazine was worth supporting and came forward with finance. They included Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s trusts, the Methodist church in the UK, Community Aid Abroad in Australia and Oxfam-Quebec in Canada. Their involvement meant that Christian Aid and Oxfam could scale down their own contribution a little.
The magazine was central to the group’s activities, and contributed income through the subscriptions. But clearly more funds were needed to safeguard the future until it became self-supporting. In l974 the group had been commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to produce a kit of materials to mark World Population Year. This had been highly successful, earning income for the group and the NI team looked for more work in this area. In the following years press kits were produced for the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN Children’s Fund. Other projects, including participation in BBC television’s Global Report series, enhanced the reputation of the New Internationalist magazine and team.
Meanwhile, the Devopress company’s connection with the New Internationalist was coming to an end. In l978 the directors agreed on a further three years’ funding, but the following year Devopress decided to pay the rest off in a lump sum. The financial link with Christian Aid and Oxfam was severed, but both agencies remained close to the New Internationalist company and continued to show their support in a number of ways.
Fortunately by this time the magazine was thriving. The promotional effort had always been geared towards gaining subscriptions on standing order (and later direct debit). As many other publications foundered, partly because of their reliance on news-stand distribution, the NI began to look more solid.
Several innovations had taken place in the magazine. In its early days, a wide range of subjects was covered in each issue. But in l976 this changed. The idea of a part-work emerged, and each month’s edition was devoted to one particular subject (for example Islam or World Food) to give the reader a comprehensive guide and analysis.
The magazine has been redesigned several times, most recently in 2000. It moved to full-colour in 1993 . Although the editorial line has remained broadly unchanged — it is non-party political and committed to radical change within and between rich and poor countries — the approach has been modified over the years. The NI nowadays is less Eurocentric than earlier and reflects broader concerns with environmental, gender and cultural angles in addition to the social, economic and political ones. The magazine aims to reflect the views and concerns of its overseas subscribers as well as those in the UK. There is considerable emphasis on finding women contributors and writers and photographers from the South.
The use of the term ‘Third World’ - more or less unknown when the magazine started - is debated now and discarded by some. ‘Majority World’ and ‘the South’ have become more widespread. ‘Development’ and ‘sustainable development’ similarly are contentious to some people - too long to go into the debates here - but the magazine still uses them as useful shorthand phrases. In the NI today there is close identification with the issues and challenges people face, wherever they happen to live - the notion of one world or global village.
Some magazines are specially produced to tie in with campaigns. There have been issues on East Timor, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Burma, Fair Trade (Coffee, Bananas and Cocoa), Homelessness, UN Sanctions on Iraq, Asylum and refugees, and the global resistance movement.
a) Peter Adamson Communications (PAC) was established in 1971 by Peter and Lesley Adamson. Ten £1 shares in were issued — six to Peter and four to Lesley. They were also directors, with Lesley as Company Secretary.
b) Devopress was established in 1972 as a company jointly owned by Oxfam and Christian Aid. The purpose of the company was to publish New Internationalist magazine and they engaged PAC to produce and market the magazine, which was launched in March 1973.
c) In September 1975 PAC changed its name to New Internationalist Publications and management responsibility was widened to include all members of the staff. This group, which drew up its own constitution called itself the New Internationalist Publications Co-operative. It was not, however, registered as a co-operative. Ownership of the company remained with the Adamsons and legal responsibility lay with the directors who at that time were (in addition to the Adamsons) Eric Rix, Troth and Dexter Tiranti and subsequently Peter Stalker. The directors of the company at this point were required to give personal guarantees for any overdraft at the bank. Each member of the co-operative had an equal share in decisions about running the company with the proviso that any decision with profound financial implications company had to be approved by the guarantors. In practice the weekly co-operative meeting took all decisions.
d) In 1981 Christian Aid and Oxfam sold Devopress. Of the 100 shares in the company 99 were taken by NIP Ltd and one by Eric Rix (there has to be a minimum of two shareholders). Devopress and NIP were run together by the co-operative until 1984 by which time all the activities of the two companies had been assumed by NIP Ltd — and in particular the ownership and production of New Internationalist. Since NIP now had the subscribers’ advance payments, no overdraft was required so the financial guarantees by the directors were withdrawn.
e) Peter and Lesley Adamson came off the staff payroll in 1982 but remained shareholders and directors of NIP. In 1983 Eric Rix resigned from NIP and was replaced as a director by James Rowland.
f) An equal pay structure was agreed in 1986.
g) This remained the position until 1992 with no dividend ever being paid to the shareholders of NIP. In June 1992 Peter and Lesley Adamson gave their shares to the newly created New Internationalist Trust. Devopress remained a dormant company until June 2006 when it was resurrected as New Internationalist Campaigners Ltd; it is wholly owned by NIP.
With a worldwide circulation of 45,000 the NI is in a strong position. The offices in Aoteoroa (New Zealand), Australia and Canada have shown tremendous energy in promoting the magazine, and the UK operation is very fruitful. There is a small operation in Japan.
In addition to publishing the New Internationalist, the team has produced press kits for various UN agencies such as UNICEF. Since 1982 the NI has produced its own full-colour One World Calendar in collaboration with a consortium of European aid agencies. Other one-off projects have included: a Peace Pack, a resource kit for anti-nuclear-weapons campaigners; a book to mark the end of the UN Decade for Women in l985 and a television film for the UK’s Channel 4 about women and food production in Africa (Man-Made Famine). This film provided the basis for a project to assess the use of video as a teaching device with rural women in Kenya. In 1987 we made another film, Girls Apart, which contrasted the lives of a black and a white girl in South Africa. This was shown in Britain on BBC 2. However the group felt that we did not have the resources to make film a central part of our activities. As a result we looked to concentrating on areas of work which could be incorporated more readily into our existing operations - design and print.
The main initiative, begun early in 1988, was to extend the range of items sold by the NI to include a One World Almanac, T-shirts, mugs and other goods. These made a useful contribution to the NI’s income which was ploughed back into the magazine - for example by moving to full colour in 1993 and switching to recycled paper in 1999.
In 1990 the range of products included the group’s second major publication, The Food Book, which brought together intriguing recipes from around the world. There have been a further three books in this highly successful series. The NI now regularly publishes 5-10 titles a year.
From the uncertainty of the early days, the NI has grown to become a regular part of many people’s lives. Its readers are a lively group, as was highlighted in a recent questionnaire. Messages of support were peppered with critiques of the magazine’s shortcomings which let no editor feel too comfortable. But this is exactly what the NI set out to do in 1973: to stir people up, to make them question their lives and the way the world operates. As the magazine’s circulation shows, many people are taking up that message.
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