At New Internationalist, travel for co-op business has always been undertaken thoughtfully, with regard given not only to costs and how valuable the trip is to the magazine, but also to the bigger picture. For instance, how can we ask our readers to cut down or stop air travel altogether when we use flights to undertake research for the magazine?
Fly the flight? Photo by sacks08 under a Creative Commons licence.
This was highlighted in the July/August 2009 issue ‘Some like it cold’, edited by Jess Worth. It was about the effect of climate change on the people and environment of the Arctic. As she put it: ‘In order to put this magazine together, I flew halfway across the world, contributing to the very problem – climate change – that is threatening the Arctic’s future.’
In the past, if an editor planned to travel to research their magazine, they had to bring a paper to the co-op outlining why they were travelling, outline the costs and then seek approval for the trip from the whole group. Agreement was rarely denied but Jess’s request caused a heated debate with some feeling the flight couldn’t be justified. This put Jess in a difficult and defensive position when she was simply trying to do the best she could to fulfil our mission statement, in other words, to tell stories that are ignored and bring out voices that seldom get heard.
After lengthy discussions we agreed that Jess should go. Her excellent magazine included interviews with people from the Inupiaq village, Kaktovik, who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to tell their personal stories about the effects of climate change on their lives and their environment.
We have decided to address this dilemma by setting out a travel policy that limits the number of flights we take to six return trips for the whole year. This number has to include trips to and from our overseas offices, trips to research material for the magazine and to attend appointments with overseas printers and publishers to produce and promote our publications. This is a challenge for a magazine that addresses worldwide issues and has offices in Canada, NZ/Aotearoa and Australia – the clue is in the name!
We do realize that we must be seen by our subscribers to be ‘walking the walk’ rather than just ‘talking the talk’, while acknowledging that there may be added costs to the business by avoiding cheap flights.
Obviously, we use Skype and other video conferencing when appropriate, but if a European trip cannot be avoided we provide technology that enables staff to work effectively on their journeys by rail and public transport. Staff will be out of the office for longer periods and will be entitled to time off in lieu when journey times impinge on personal time, but the business is willing to meet the cost of this.
The policy is now in place and we will strive to stay within the six flights limit and reduce this number further if we can, while keeping up our high standards of global journalism.