Among the first things I did on moving to Yorkshire to study was visit a newsagent’s shop to buy a local newspaper. It was the 1970s so there were a few to choose from, and I opted for the one that just looked the most interesting: Leeds Other Paper.
Its 18 scrappily-designed A4 pages contained an alternative selection of stories and attitudes, and also included the following statement of intent:
“We publish Leeds Other Paperbecause we hope people will find it useful and interesting and because we enjoy doing it. We are not aligned to any particular political party but try to support groups and individuals struggling to take control over their own lives – whether it’s in the factory, the housing estate, or the home … If you like the paper and want to make it better or help us get it out to more people, we’d be pleased to hear from you … We have weekly meetings every Monday evening, and new people are always welcome.”
After a while as just a reader, I accepted that open invitation to join in. No sooner had I turned up but, in the co-operative spirit of the alternative local press of the time, I became an editor. Not the editor – the paper never had such a hierarchical position – but one of the dozen or so people who would spend an evening once a fortnight editing it collectively. At these lengthy, intense and (mostly) good-humoured editorial meetings everyone would read every proposed contribution and then, sometimes after drink had been taken, discuss the merits or otherwise of each story.
Literally everything was up for discussion: not just how a story had been reported, who had been quoted, and the way it was written, but whether it was worth reporting at all and what the point of the story was. Of course, that suggested every story ought to have a point; what sort of point?
It was put like this in an internal discussion document called View on the News – yes, we had internal discussion documents about the purpose of news – in which one of the paper’s founders (Gordon Wilson) wrote:
“…politically, a good story for me is one that reinforces the ability of the mass of people to do things for themselves and decreases their reliance on others (especially in work and in the community). Conversely, a bad story is one that does the opposite of this. It’s a very general and unsatisfactory criterion in many respects but it does home in on the basic belief in people having power over their own lives.”
That’s pretty much what Leeds Other Paper tried to do, from its emergence in 1974 until it eventually ran out of steam in 1994. We did not always get everything right, and fewer people were directly involved once the paper switched from fortnightly to weekly production. But for 20 years LOP demonstrated that another journalism was possible. That was indeed interesting. It still is.
Tony Harcup now teaches journalism at the University of Sheffield. The full text of Views on the News can be found in the appendix of his 2013 book Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices (Routledge). As well as various academic articles Tony also wrote the below pamphlet about LOP.