Credit: courtesy of Reece Stafferton

A UK independent news organisation is seeking to raise £2,500 through a crowdfunding campaign to bring a new kind of journalism to its local area.

The Great Central Gazette is a Leicester-based, non-profit co-operative news organisation. The co-operative news model has been pioneered in the UK by The Bristol Cable, a membership-led organisation committed to financial and organisational transparency. It launched in 2014 and has amassed 2,700 members who each own a stake in the company.

Its members thus have a say on its editorial campaigns, can be elected as non-executive board members, have a say on its resource allocation, and make up an integral part of its income. Members also provide valuable expertise to turn to for editorial pieces.

Read more: The Bristol Cable launches new tool to engage readers with local journalism

The Cable also started life as a crowdfunding campaign, raising £3,344 with 79 supporters in 28 days. The Great Central Gazette wants to emulate its success for Leicester readers.

The initial £2,500 crowdfunding target will fund its new website and a series of workshops next year, where members and non-members will learn about media literacy and journalism skills.

If successful, a stretch target of £5,000 will help to put on larger events for its members and publish more journalism early on.

Leicester, like many areas in the UK, is served by a sole legacy news organisation, the Reach-owned newspaper Leicester Mercury and its news website Leicestershire Live.

The Great Central Gazette's pledge is to offer investigations with solutions at its core. Co-founder Reece Stafferton said Leicester has plenty to write about, following up on big news stories, local scandals and emerging issues.

The city is still recovering from being the first to enter local lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Leicester is also home to clothing factories owned by Asos and Boohoo. The Times has exposed abuse within these factories.

Leicester council is also a political monopoly: it has 50 Labour politicians and just one Conservative, one Liberal Democrat and two Independent representatives.

"When you don’t have that cross-party accountability, a lot can go unreported. We want to put a closer lens on that sphere," says Stafferton, praising the one BBC Local Democracy Reporter's scrutiny of the council, but admitting they cannot cover everything.

"Investigations have to have an impact and when you lead with solutions in those investigations, it makes for better journalism."

A tiered membership model will launch in 2023, priced at £2, £4 and £6-a-month tiers offering different perks, the top one including a "pay-it-forward" system which will make it cheaper for others to sign-up if they cannot afford the subscription.

The Great Central Gazette aims to be funded in equal thirds through memberships, grant funding and other sources, such as merchandise, events and advertising.

It will be online-first but aims to publish free print copies in 2024, available in community centres, transportation hubs or local cafes. This is an effort to remain relevant for older readers, who still rely on physical news products.

The website will be disability-friendly and ad-free, but print copies will include "ethical advertising" for charities and community groups. It will produce an advertising charter, similar to The Bristol Cable.

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