February 2011 cover
|Publisher||New Internationalist Publications|
|First issue||March 1973|
|Based in||Oxford, England|
New Internationalist (NI) is a radical activist magazine. It describes itself as "exist[ing] to report on the issues of world poverty and inequality; to focus attention on the unjust relationship between the powerful and powerless worldwide; to debate and campaign for the radical changes necessary to meet the basic needs of all; and to bring to life the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for global justice."
The magazine has existed for over 40 years and currently is the largest magazine of its type in circulation in the United Kingdom. It won the Utne Independent Press Award for "Best International Coverage" eight times. It is a workers-run co-op operating on a flat horizontal structure and strict ethical and environmental policies.
New Internationalist is published by New Internationalist Publications, a co-operative-run publisher based in Oxford, England. It has editorial and sales offices in Toronto, Canada; Adelaide, Australia; Christchurch, New Zealand; and New York, USA.
Originally the group only published the New Internationalist magazine, co-sponsored by Oxfam, Christian Aid and the Cadbury and Rowntree Trusts. Today sponsorship is no longer needed, the magazine being completely self-funded through subscriptions, advertisements, and product sales. Besides the income earned from sales of the magazine, the group now produces films, books and other materials for various United Nations and related bodies concerned with world development.
Two major UK aid agencies, Oxfam and Christian Aid, wanted to encourage more people to understand the processes of "development". Simply giving to "charity" was not enough. This point was driven home in 1969 when the Labour Government, with hardly any public outcry, cut overseas aid by more than the total raised by Oxfam and Christian Aid since their inception. The idea of a monthly magazine to discuss and debate development issues in a readable way was attractive. So the two agencies came together and formed a new publishing company, Devopress, with a subvention of £50,000 for the period 1973-76. Devopress comprised three Christian Aid directors and three from Oxfam. The board took a lively interest in the editorial and marketing of the magazine, although the editorial line was independent.
Early issues of the New Internationalist included features on the Tan-Zam railway in Tanzania, interviews with President Kaunda of Zambia and Bishop Helder Camara in Brazil; Vietnam, drought in the Sahel, and the legacy of Che Guevara. It was an issue of the NI, in August 1973, that first drew attention to the irresponsible marketing of baby milk in the Third World by multinational companies.
The New Internationalist was launched as a monthly magazine in 1973. Its forerunner was The Internationalist, sent to members of the student development organisation Third World First, since renamed as People & Planet.
In the early 1970s, probably highlighted by the war in Vietnam and the newly independent nations, people's attention was turning to the relationship between the West and the developing countries. The liberation struggles in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia; the death of President Allende in Chile; China under Mao Zedong and Cuba with Castro; Nyerere's brand of socialism in Tanzania; the 'Green Revolution' (high-yielding varieties of grains), and the 'trickle down' theory of economic growth: these were some of the things that people wanted to know more about.
The New Internationalist - with its strapline 'the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for world development' - offered its readers a radical analysis of rich-poor world relationships, looking critically at the effects of aid programmes, for example, and providing a refreshing alternative to the mainstream development and news channels, and mainstream media.
From the outset the New Internationalist was aiming for self-sufficiency. It was vigorously promoted and its circulation grew steadily. But in 1975 things began to teeter: the effects of the 1973 oil crisis pushed up prices; inflation bit. The magazine (at this point relying heavily on subscriptions) came close to folding when postal charges doubled in the space of a year.
Letters were written to organisations and friends warning them that the NI would close in 1976 unless it received financial help. Enough groups felt the magazine was worth supporting and came forward with finance. They included Cadbury's and Rowntree's trusts, the Methodist church in the UK, Community Aid Abroad in Australia and Oxfam-Quebec in Canada. Their involvement prompted Christian Aid and Oxfam to scale down their own contributions a little.
The magazine was central to the group's activities, and contributed income through the subscriptions. But clearly more funds were needed to safeguard the future until it became self-supporting. In 1974 the group had been commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to produce a kit of materials to mark World Population Year. This was highly successful, earning income for the group, and the NI team looked for more work in this area. In the following years press' kits were produced for the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN Children's Fund. Other projects, including participation in BBC television's Global Report series, enhanced the reputation of the New Internationalist magazine and team.
Meanwhile, the Devopress company's connection with the New Internationalist was coming to an end. In 1978 the directors agreed on a further three years' funding, but the following year Devopress decided to pay the rest off in a lump sum. The financial link with Christian Aid and Oxfam was severed, but both agencies remained close to the New Internationalist company and continued to show their support in a number of ways.
Fortunately, by this time the magazine was thriving. The promotional effort had always been geared towards gaining subscriptions on standing order (and later direct debit). As many other publications foundered, partly because of their reliance on news-stand distribution, the NI began to look more solid.
Several innovations had taken place in the magazine. In its early days, a wide range of subjects was covered in each issue. But in 1976 this changed. The idea of a part-work emerged, and each month's edition was devoted to one particular subject (for example Islam or World Food) to give the reader a comprehensive guide and analysis.
The magazine has been redesigned several times, most recently in April 2000. It moved to full-colour in 1993. Although its left-wing, Libertarian socialist-leaning editorial line has remained broadly unchanged - it is non-party political and committed to radical change within and between rich and poor countries - the approach has been modified over the years. The NI nowadays is less Eurocentric and reflects broader concerns with environmental, gender and cultural angles in addition to social, economic and political ones. The magazine aims to reflect the views and concerns of its overseas subscribers as well as those in the UK. There is considerable emphasis on finding women contributors and writers and photographers from the South.
The use of the term 'Third World' - more or less unknown when the magazine started - is debated now and discarded by some. 'Majority World' and 'the South' have become more widespread. 'Development' and 'sustainable development' similarly are contentious to some people - too long to go into the debates here - but the magazine still uses them as useful shorthand phrases. Reflecting this change, the magazine has also altered the strapline, which now reads: "the people, the ideas, the action in the fight for global justice". In the NI today there is close identification with the issues and challenges people face, wherever they happen to live - the notion of one world or global village.
Some magazines are specially produced to tie in with campaigns. There have been issues on East Timor, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Burma, Fair Trade (Coffee, Bananas and Cocoa), Homelessness, Jubilee 2000 and UN Sanctions on Iraq.
Another major change in the NI has been structural. When it started, the company operated as a conventional hierarchy, albeit with much sharing and teamwork. In 1976 a more co-operative approach was adopted and developed over the years so that, although legally it was a limited company owned by the original shareholders, Peter and Lesley Adamson, the NI operated as a collective, with decision-making shared by all members on an equal footing. Equal pay came in 1987. The transfer of ownership from the Adamsons came about with the creation of Advisory Trustees and Employee Trustees, with the limited company being owned by New Internationalist Trust. The Co-op's legal status was achieved in June 1992.
New Internationalist has a circulation of 75,000 and offices in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, in addition to the UK operation.
In addition to publishing the New Internationalist, since 1982 the team has produced its own full-colour One World Calendar in collaboration with a consortium of European aid agencies. Other one-off projects have included: a Peace Pack, a resource kit for anti-nuclear-weapons campaigners; a book to mark the end of the UN Decade for Women in 1985 and a television film for the UK's Channel 4 about women and food production in Africa (Man-Made Famine). This film provided the basis for a project to assess the use of video as a teaching device with rural women in Kenya. In 1987 they made another film, Girls Apart, which contrasted the lives of a black and a white girl in South Africa. This was shown in Britain on BBC2.
However the group felt it did not have the resources to make film a central part of its activities. As a result they looked to concentrating on areas of work which could be incorporated more readily into their existing operations - design and print.
The main initiative, begun early in 1988, was to extend the range of items sold by the NI to include a One World Almanac, T-shirts, mugs and other goods. These made a useful contribution to the NI′s income which was ploughed back into the magazine — for example by introducing colour throughout the magazine in 1993 and switching to fully recycled paper in 1999.
In 1990, the range of products included the group's second major publication, The Food Book, which brought together recipes from around the world. There have been a further three books in this series. The NI now regularly publishes two–four titles a year, including many No-Nonsense Guides.