Some people are impossible not to love – and the late Stephen Lloyd, lawyer and social entrepreneur, was one.
Some organisations you love or hate. And then it is possible to have some, more rare, that are organisations that you can love and hate at the same time – of which the Guardian newspaper is perhaps one.
So what happened, a few years ago, when Stephen Lloyd and a few of us had a go at trying to save the Guardian?
What’s to love? George Orwell wrote for the Guardian and the humanity he gave to the paper has never left. The Guardian has championed causes like freedom of information, something we now take for granted. The Guardian put Jonathan Aitken in prison at the height of misrule in the mid 1990s Conservative government. It was the whistle for the greatest of today’s whistle-blowers, Edward Snowden. The Guardian is unique because it is owned by a trust, the Scott Trust, that is dedicated to liberal, critical journalism and to preserving the independence of the Editor from political and commercial interference.
What’s to hate? Not the spelling mistakes…they’ve largely gorn. It is a bigger set of errors. Without a fundamental new model of business, it has long been clear that the Guardian is going down the pan. The Editor’s nest has been feathered, the headquarters plumped up, but it is an unhappy workplace and a commercial slow suicide note.
For the moment, it has enough readers who buy it most days, but the majority of people who read the paper now do so from abroad using the internet. And they get it for free. Just as content has moved online, so has advertising… but the result is a toll of losses, offset only by selling other business assets.
Stephen, I, Dave Boyle (author of Good News) and a number of others came together to have a go at persuading the Guardian that it could turn itself into a social business.
Stephen wrote that “in a cooperative a large number of members unite to meet their common aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. The common aspirations of the Guardian cooperative would be to further the principles upon which the Scott Trust was founded in 1936: to secure the future of the Guardian and to promote independent journalism. The basic premise of the cooperative model is that the Guardian would be owned by a huge group of readers who pay to own a share of the paper and pay a yearly membership amount. Thus the cooperative model generates an ongoing income stream.”
The Guardian would, if so, become the first mass UK reader-owned national newspaper. Rather than a transactional, consumer relationship, readers could become members, owners and supporters of something they love. In Germany, Die Tageszeitung shows the way – a newspaper owned as a co-operative by 12,000 readers.
So, did we get anywhere?
Well, it was and is a great idea – as so often with Stephen Lloyd.
But, no. Lots of words, glimpses of hope, endless circles – as so often with the Guardian.