Direct from the soup kitchens
By Tony Harcup
During the 1984-5 strike I was working for the Leeds Other Paper (LOP) as a 'general everything' which included doing a bit of reporting, I was in my late twenties.
Tony Harcup has 25 years experience as a journalist in both alternative and mainstream print media. He is the author of Journalism: Principles and Practice. He joined the Department of Journalism Studies at the University of Sheffield as a senior lecturer in 2005
The paper was a workers Co-operative. It moved premises regularly (we couldn't afford anything grand) but in 1984 LOP was in Cookridge Street in what is now the Academy.
The clue was in the title, it was the 'other' paper. We saw it as an alternative to the Yorkshire Evening Post. We felt that ordinary people weren't getting their views reported.
The paper started sometime in 1974 and closed in 1994. I spent about 10 years on the LOP, it was firstly monthly, then fortnightly and latterly weekly. It included a what's On guide and, odd as it may seem, listings didn't really exist then - it made us stand out.
We were a bit like London's Time Out... but less slick, less glossy and a bit more radical.
I didn't do as much reporting of the strike as some people purely because I hadn't passed my driving test and getting to picket lines in the middle of nowhere at 4am was a bit tricky.
The LOP made a point of reporting the year-long strike from the perspective of the ordinary miner. It wasn't seen by LOP as Arthur Scargill's strike, it wasn't his, it was the miners' strike. Much of the national media had an obsession with Scargill. We didn't see it as Thatcher against Scargill. That was one of the differences with our coverage.
We always tried to talk to the people involved. We tried not to speak to the national leaders, or press spokesman, or union officials about anything. We reported directly from the soup kitchens and meetings.
The LOP was unashamedly on the side of the striking miners - we still reported the truth but we were up-front about our perspective. Very little that was reported during the strike was from a neutral perspective.
I talked to a lot of people during the strike and the effect on some of the women in particular was noticeable. Some marriages even broke down as women found a new purpose, some found that the strike lead them into opportunities, like entering education, that they wouldn't have taken otherwise. The traditional ways of the communities were challenged.
On the LOP there was a small body of low-paid workers and a much bigger pool of helpers and contributors. The paper took in other commercial jobs, like typesetting and printing, to try and make it pay.
We even invited readers in to help edit the paper if they wanted to which got a bit harder to do when the paper went weekly. There wasn't an Editor as such it was democratic in spirit. Readers could, and did, just wander in to the office. We would find out what they were interested in and get them involved.
Now the LOP's approach is really best mirrored on the Internet, you can DIY everything from your bedroom with a computer.
Back then we collated and folded the paper by hand every week. It was hands-on! Our maximum circulation was only ever about 3500 copies but normally around 2500.
I think the LOP did make a difference for the readers who shared our view, it showed them they weren't the only people to question the mainstream. It was a coming together of a community that was questioning of the 'powers that be'.
(Tony was talking to Trevor Gibbons)
last updated: 17/03/2009 at 11:44