Peter Jukes

According to a 2021 report by the Media Reform Coalition, 90 per cent of UK print nationals are owned by just three companies. On a local level, more than 80 are owned by six companies.

Peter Jukes and Stephen Colegrave co-founded Byline Times with the intention of creating a fully crowdfunded newspaper. Their first edition sold over 500 copies in advance and the company grew to 30,000 subscribers in 2023, with around 14,000 of those subscribing to the print edition.

Now fully funded by their readers with a combination of crowdfunding and a Netflix-style pay-in-advance subscription model, their website states that it is 'outside of the system of oligarchs and government bungs', due to its independence from external influences.

"The good route for a commercial model is that the consumer actions tell you what your audience wants - now you don’t always give them what they want - but that’s a much better model for communicating with the public," Jukes says.

"That’s a much better system than one where the objectives are set by those who are seeking to make a profit, or influence society. It also makes us freer than other newspapers who want a certain person in power or receive investment from financiers or oligarchs."

Byline Times is one of a number of signatories on a submission to Baroness Hallett’s covid inquiry into the ‘All In, All Together’ scheme which saw government money (an initial agreement of £35m in the first three months) paid to members of the News Media Association for advertising campaigns during the pandemic. The story was first covered in 2020, due to concern over the unequal access to the scheme and conflicts of interest in holding the government to account.

"These top people in journalism operate like a closed cartel of Oxbridge people," Jukes explains, adding that special advisers and press secretaries are often former or potential future colleagues and this makes it difficult to report objectively on events.

"In London especially, there is a class privilege employment basis, where journalism selects out very good journalists from ordinary backgrounds in favour of those that see it as a route to politics or power."

Additionally, the paper is in the midst of a three-year investigation into the professional conduct of Dan Wootton of The Sun and GB News. Jukes says that reporters in the mainstream print media are deliberately treating the story differently to the likes of Huw Edwards and Phillip Schofield because it is too "awkward" for them. He adds that Wootton is protected by colleagues because he previously worked for the Mail and Rupert Murdoch.

Reporters at Byline Times had more freedom to report on these stories: "A lot of journalists are trapped. They have no other choice if they want to earn money or work for the big three or four. People don’t like it - why would they? - but if your chances of being employed by Murdoch are about 50 per cent and you want to pay the mortgage then they have very little choice," he explains.

"My sense is that it’s an economic problem which has become a political problem. To break the logjam we need to break up the political class and once that’s done I think we can look at a fairer distribution. It’s crucial that ownership nationally and locally is done to support independent journalism."

Byline Times is going to retail in November, with 10 to 15,000 copies in WHSmith and Marks and Spencer. This is more of an advertisement of the paper, due to the small profit margins on shop sales. They are also exploring developing an app for digital editions and expanding to America.

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