‘New people are always welcome’ – Tony Harcup recalls his arrival at Leeds Other Paper

Tony Harcup at What’s (the) News? conference, Brussels 2018

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.

Published by Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom in the mid 1990s




Four weeks in…

I’m now four weeks into my role as Research Associate on RRRP project and really pleased to be doing this. Independent radical newspapers were part of my political education, from local ones like Back Street Bugle and Islington Gutter Press to Outwrite the women’s newspaper.  The project also allows me to draw on some of the knowledge picked up via my lengthy research into the radical printshops of the same period (which I spent several years working in).  But back to the present and more importantly the RRRP project. What have we done and found out so far?

One thing we’ve had to do is define our parameters. What do we actually mean by the ‘regional radical press’? Does we simply mean outside of London or do we just mean local?  We mean local. Locally based and locally orientated in terms of readership and news/information.  So local area based papers in London are in. We’ve also said the papers we are interested in are ‘independent’, but what does that mean? We’ve agreed it means papers that are independent of any national party, organisation, project, campaign, group. They are also not the newsheets of a local campaign. What then about papers that weren’t tied to a particular organisation but were part of a particular wider social or radical movement? Hustler for example, started in 1968 by Courtney Tulloch and Naseem Khan, born of the black power movement and very much engaged with the local issues of its Notting Hill base. That’s got to be in. We are hovering about the papers of local anarchist groups. There were a lot of these (surely a research project in its own right?) What we’ve decided is that it depends on the content; if there was commentary about local issues and news it fits our criteria. The same with local women’s newspapers.

Copy held in Bishopsgate Archives

Apart from talking about parameters we’ve also set up this website and our twitter account, and through these are making contact with more people and archives. But the bigger and ongoing task has been setting up databases. One is for names of papers, locations and time periods. We now have over 200 titles listed, and its likely there are many more. We’ll post the list up soon and appeal for names of omissions! We are also making a database with the names of people who were involved, people with collections of papers and people with similar interests that want to stay in touch with project.

And we are creating the equally important database of archival and personal holdings of each paper on our list; what issue numbers, what dates, what ones are missing. This is especially challenging!  There is the small matter that some radical newspapers did not date their issues. Or always number them. And then there’s matters pertaining to cataloguing systems.  Not only are online archive catalogues quite variable in how, and the extent to which, they list individual items — and in their searching features — it’s also variable where you might find them in the archives. For example at the very brilliant Modern Records Centre at Warwick University, there are copies of local radical papers in the archives of individuals who have deposited the materials of their political life, but it’s guesswork which ones to delve into. And yet this is part of the fun. Did anyone ever say archival research was efficient?  The Warwick collection by the way is fantastic with archives of trade unionists, members of neo-Trotskyist groups and even a couple of anarchists.

Not all the archives we’ve identified so far have detailed or even any online catalogue information about their holdings of regional radical papers. This of course has the benefit of justifying the absolute necessity of visiting in person and spending a few hours, maybe days, going through materials. Our visit to MayDay Rooms for the launch of the StateWatch Archives a week or so ago,  great night, provided an all too brief taste of the pleasures of Actual Stuff. The mini display of items from the Statewatch Archive included the first issues of Cardiff People’s Paper and the intriguing Smoke and Whispers from Somerset. And Jakob from MayDay Archives dug out several issues of a title we definitely did not have on our list, Tower Power! Too awed by the covers and crunchy print quality, I didn’t check to see who produced it. A little research since indicates it was actually published by Tower Hamlets NALGO (one of the trade unions that has since dissolved into UNISON). So  its off the list, but still I want to know whether  it was just distributed to local branch members of NALGO or to a wider local readership.

Tower Power
Copies held at MayDay Archives

Also on the archives front we must say we are chuffed that some archives have initiated contact with us; Sparrows Nest in Nottingham, the Commonweal Collection at Bradford and Special Collections at Aberdeen University Library, all of whom have extensive collections of just what we are looking for. We’ve had great advice too from people who’ve been in touch, ‘try Hackney Archives’ (thanks John), and ‘Spirit of Revolt in Glasgow’ (thanks Andrew). Others have told us where the paper they were involved with is archived, from Preston to Cambridge.

Finally we’ve also been tracking down any secondary published material on the regional radical press of the period we are looking at, as per our first two posts on this site and some of our tweets.  More to follow. But at this stage, the general paucity of such material (Tony Harcup, Bob Dickinson and MPG excepted of course) would seem to confirm our suspicions and motivations. OK, back to the databases!

Jess Baines

Imprinting the Sticks

Bob Dickinson’s 1997 book Imprinting the Sticks: the Alternative Press Beyond London is a super useful text for our research. He plots out the history of the alternative press in the Manchester region from the late 60s through to the 90s, from early papers such as Grass Eye, Mole Express and Moss Side News to more event listing type publications and punk influenced zines of the later 70s and early 80s — and beyond to Jockey Slut. The energy, trials and tribulations of setting up, keeping going, and breaking up are all there, captured through insightful interviews and Dickinson’s own analysis. Dickinson traces the overlaps and associations between the different papers and players, including  the radical Christians connections partly, by way of Catonsville Road Runner, a dimension  often ignored in histories of this period.  What we need now is an ‘imprinting the sticks’ for every region across Britain — hopefully our project will go some way towards that… in some form or another!

LitReviewImprinting the Sticks

But first, a literature review

The first raid on UWE’s library delivers these texts with varying relevance to our project. We’ve got Tony Harcup’s important Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices to fillet and Nigel Fountain’s Underground: The London Alternative Press 1966-1974. That book sparked this reminiscence by Time Out writer and former Guardian crime reporter Duncan Campbell. But what else should be on our reading list for mapping the regional radical press in the UK?