THE OTHER NEWSPAPER

Freedom of Speech

September 8th, 1982. A young man working for Leeds Other Paper runs as fast as he can, away from Leeds train station and away from the police officers following him.

He had been taking pictures at a stopped train carrying nuclear weapons, and his article reported: “Unfortunately for the authorities, Leeds Other Paper had been informed that a train was coming... More unfortunately for them, there was trouble on the line and the train complete with nuclear bomb (or bombs?) was held up at the signals for over 20 minutes...what is the Council going to do about it? In any event, it can’t just be left to our elected representatives. It’s a bit too important for that”.

If this journalist had gone first to the Ministry of Defense for information, he would not have gotten much to write about. But Leeds Other Paper usually went straight for the evidence. When rumors of a local chemical leak surfaced, Leeds Other Paper could have investigated by asking the local company executive about carcinogens used in his factory. But Leeds Other Paper went to the factory workers instead, to find “Benzidine dyes on [their] bloody sandwiches, literally”.

Leeds Other Paper (or LOP, as it was known) was born in 1974 out of two typewriters, an offset litho press and a group of anarchists and libertarian socialists gathered in a friend’s garage. Like other alternative UK newspapers born in that era, Leeds Other Paper had a new approach to journalism: articles would not be objective but outspoken; not neutral, but political. LOP's inclination towards working-class ideas and politics also encouraged LOP journalists to exercise a unique kind of fact-finding; they rarely asked government sources for information because they simply didn't trust government, to begin with. So Leeds Other Paper emphasized other kinds of truth. It made sure that the balance of reportage was not systematically tilted to official sources, and refused to make economics and politics look like a big party to which you, reader, were not invited.

Of course, LOP's authority problem did not make distribution easy. The Leeds council would not allow Leeds Other Paper to be sold at newsstands, so LOP found its way to readers through pubs, with the tagline, "Don’t let the bastards carve us up!". LOP's readers were even invited to the paper's editorial meetings to discuss the content, and editors welcomed tips for any story "that reinforced the ability of the mass of people to do things for themselves".

Leeds Other Paper's unconventional journalism and crack investigative strategies allowed it to break a number of important stories, including a geneaology of the secret connections between Britain and Chile's Pinochet dictatorship. Eventually, other newspapers and broadcast services began to turn to LOP for contacts and stories, and the National Union of Journalists started funding the radical, populist publication in 1988. Years went by and LOP's topics changed from wildcat strikes to muslim and gay movements. It changed its name to Northern Star. But by the late 1990s, Leeds Other Paper's over-worked and underpaid staff realized readers' tastes had changed, too; most read only the "What's On" guide and music sections, and threw out the rest.

 

--

"Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices" (Tony Harcup)