‘We’ve never had a benefactor... It made sense to turn to our readers’

This month New Internationalist has launched the most ambitious Community Share Offer by a media organization to date, with a target of $625,000 (£500,000). Alessio Perrone gets the inside story from co-editor Hazel Healy.

New Internationalist co-editor Hazel Healy and Web Editorial Assistant Alessio Perrone.

What prompted New Internationalist to go down this road?

It felt like we had to do something big. Our paid subscriptions have dropped in recent years, in line with print’s decline worldwide. And that’s been a big knock for a small, independent company like ours.

At the same time, things are starting to look up. Magazine circulation has grown this year, digital sales are increasing – and we are reaching many more millions, through our website, than we could have dreamed of when this magazine was born 44 years ago.

So, we are at a point where we have a plan for how to turn things around, and where we need this uplift to get back up on to higher ground. We’ve never had a benefactor – obviously an oligarch is out of the question. It made sense to turn to our readers and others who share their values through this Community Share Offer.

Is now a good time for this?

Absolutely. With President Trump wreaking havoc in the US and the spread of fake news and zero-sum nationalism, there has never been a greater need for journalism like ours. It’s a frightening time: progressive voices urgently need to be heard; we need to be breaking out of the leftwing echo-chamber and reaching a bigger audience. The share offer will help us to do that.

There are many challenges ahead – climate change and yawning inequality to name but two. To handle what’s coming we need knowledge – not clickbait.

We need journalism that brings people together; that makes the point that we rise or fall together. This is what internationalism – and our journalism – is all about.

The public is more on board with the idea of bolstering good media. Journalism projects on the funding site Kickstarter raised over $6 million last year and over 20 per cent of those funded were established media organizations like ours.

And our subscribers are quite special – ‘idealistic, energetic and concerned about the lives of people thousands of miles away’, in the words of former co-editor Dexter Tiranti.

They stepped in for us once before, in 1975, when the oil crisis doubled the price of postage in one year. Cheques rolled in from educationalists, NGOs, individuals from across the world. Today, we have tens of thousands pledged already. It definitely feels like the right time for us to do this.

Can you explain what a community share offer is?

Say there is a community asset – like a windfarm or local shop or football club – that you want to set up or save. Well, you can do it through a community share offer.

It’s been catching on in recent years, enabling people to club together to create or support businesses with a social benefit.

If things go to plan, you may even get interest on your investment. But it is more that you buy a share to invest in the kind of world you’d like to live in.

'We write about others coming together to change things; now it’s our turn'

A world – for example – with a flourishing New Internationalist in it, producing quality journalism that makes the case for a more equal world and gets progressive political ideas out to new audiences.

In our share issue, anyone over 16 can buy shares. And a small shareholder will have just as much power as a large one.

Won’t that be a major shift in power dynamics?

It is a big, bold offer to give away power, yes. When our supporters invest, they become the joint custodians of our mission, charged with keeping us on track and ensuring that New Internationalist can never deviate from its founding principles as laid down in our Editorial Charter.

We have converted into a co-operative society, which allows for multiple stakeholders and gives us new mechanisms such as a Common Council, as a more active forum for engaging with content and direction in the company.

It will be a big cultural shift for us – as a workers’ co-operative – but there’s a certain logical progression there, too. We were founded by Peter and Lesley Adamson, then owned by the workers and now by our readers and supporters.

It’s a way to truly democratize the media and do something big ourselves – we write about others coming together to change things; now it’s our turn.

So, what makes New Internationalist special – what do you do that others don’t do?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the past six months. I’ve drawn on readers’ letters and testimonials in the process – to understand what it is people value about us.

Our readers often talk about our attention to facts, the opportunity to go in-depth into a subject (which of course we love as journalists and editors). Then there is also the way we tell our stories – giving people a dignified platform. Never talking down to our readers.

And, the way we bring to life the realities of people thousands of miles away connects us to one another in way that a mainstream-media piece about, say, ‘100 girls undergo female genital mutilation in a day’ will never do.

The final factor that sets us apart is, of course, our concern with justice – knowing that the way things are is neither natural nor inevitable. We lay out alternatives and introduce the people working to change things for the better.

We have distilled all that into the campaign slogan ‘Buy into a Better Story’ with the tagline ‘facts and heart’ – which was actually based on a comment from a Canadian subscriber about the Ebola magazine in June last year.

You are going for £500,000 ($635,000) and this is an all-or-nothing campaign on Crowdfunder. If you don’t raise the money you will have to return what you raise. Why the radical step?

We got to this target after a lot of number-crunching. And we think this is the minimum we need to turn our business round, scale up and flourish into the future.

You have to remember that a share offer is substantively different to a funding drive – which says ‘fund us to continue doing what we do’. In this case, we are saying ‘invest in us, to help transform our organization’.

With that sum, we will relaunch the magazine, hugely increase our digital output and grow our book publishing and Ethical Shop social enterprise. Anything less will only be a sticking plaster. See factsandheart.org for the full business plan…

OK. I’m in – I want to buy into a better story! How do I invest?

Excellent question! Go to factsandheart.org or call us on +44(0) 1865 413304 (UK) or (613) 826 1319 (Canada/US)

Before you go...

It’s a critical time to build media that brings people together – not drives them apart. That means journalism that creates an inclusive global community, and emphasizes that the struggles of people are often in opposition to the same elite-driven globalization and share the same aspiration to a global, common good.

At New Internationalist, we have never had a rich benefactor or a media tycoon bankrolling what we do. So it makes sense for us to turn to our readers to help shape the kind of journalism that makes the case for something better.

On 1 March, we launched an ambitious Community Share Offer, opening up ownership of New Internationalist to ordinary people all over the world. If you are interested in joining us, visit factsandheart.org.