The Bristol Cable started in 2014 as an alternative to corporately-owned local media. It produces online and print journalism, made by and for the residents of Bristol. The Cable is fully owned by its members, over 2000 of them, and is run as a workers’ cooperative.
The Cable has a focus on involving marginalised communities and amplifying voices not normally heard through mainstream journalism. Each member has an equal shareholding, no matter their monthly contribution – one member, one vote. Members don’t vote on creating content, as the editorial team is completely independent, though the Cable team regularly engages their members and wider community in their editorial through call outs.
Bristol is a multicultural city with a lot going for it, but this can hide the high levels of inequality and deprivation in some parts of the city. There are significant disparities in wealth and opportunities for different communities, and some voices are heard much louder than others.
In response to perceived failures of corporately-owned local media organisations, a group of volunteers founded The Bristol Cable in 2014 through organising and crowdfunding with the local community. Ownership has been retained locally by structuring the organisation as a reader cooperative, and the staff team operate as a worker cooperative – members also become shareholders in the organisation, maintaining influence over how the cooperative moves forward.
The community-owned media organisation found that off-the-shelf back-office software was too expensive, and also not suited to their needs. So they have been building their systems for membership management and democratic participation. In doing this, they will actively preserve members’ privacy by keeping all their data in-house, rather than on third-party platforms. This bespoke customer-relationship management (CRM) system is sustainable, community-driven, and fully accountable to its members.
At The Bristol Cable, hiring a software developer has boosted the confidence of all staff, helping them to develop new ideas — staff have not necessarily learned new technical skills, but rather have become familiar with terminology and processes. This in itself is valuable, because now the potential uses of technology have permeated throughout all aspects of the organisation, rather than being a standalone function. Staff have since worked together with the software engineer to collaborate on new tools and functionality, strengthening their ability to deliver activity core to their mission.
For them, technology is “rooted in [our] overall mission and values… [it] services the overall principles rather than being separate from the rest of the organisation”.
Being able to have broader conversations within their sector about harnessing technology, and seeing what their peers are doing, has been important in sparking ideas for Cable staff. Trust in journalism is low, and engagement with communities is a big part of how Bristol Cable builds legitimacy and trust amongst its members, as well as letting members have influence and control over the cooperative.
Bristol residents can get directly involved through becoming a member of the Cable. The team also actively get out and engage with a diverse range of communities throughout the city, providing opportunities for groups who are often marginalised or discriminated against to be heard. Recent stories have looked at challenges faced by rough sleepers in the legal system, disabled people’s access to suitable homes, and have heard directly from young people excluded from school.
Many of the stories they cover and communities they feature do not receive attention elsewhere in the media. The Cable makes a difference to communities through remaining accountable to their readers through direct participation and engagement, which they feel sits in contrast to other media outlets.
The CRM system is now in use by other community media organisations in Europe, and the Cable have ambitions to keep developing it, adding new features, and building a sustainable business model for it. Two examples are the Culture or News editorial priority vote for members, and the Citizens’ Agenda where people across Bristol participated. Both of these examples were made possible by the new CRM system. The technology the organisation has developed with its strong community focus means the Bristol Cable is more than a newspaper – it’s a community that is using journalism to make the city a better place for their community members.