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News analysis: Battles still to be won as magazine turns 40
6:00pm Tuesday 8th October 2013 in News
New Internationalist co-editor Vanessa Baird with the first copy, from March 1973, left, and the 40th anniversary edition from March this year
THEY helped to expose the baby milk scandal of the 1970s, predicted the latest global financial crash and continue to champion the rights of people without a voice around the globe.
And yet walking down Rectory Road in East Oxford you could easily miss them.
Since 1973, a team of dedicated journalists at New Internationalist magazine has been fighting for the rights of the developing world.
This year the magazine celebrates its 40th birthday.
Co-editor Vanessa Baird said: “When New Internationalist started very few people imagined that it would survive more than a few issues.
“We are still here because there are still fundamental issues that need addressing, and it is still necessary to give a voice to those who are seen as the have-nots.
“We are also still here because of our readers who have stuck with us, and who often become contributors.”
The magazine, which now has 35,000 subscribers, was founded in 1973 by Oxford University students Peter and Lesley Adamson from an office in Wallingford.
It was funded for its first three years by a £50,000 grant from Oxfam and Christian Aid.
Launched with the strapline “The people, the ideas and the action in the fight for world development”
the magazine has always stuck to its credo.
The October issue, for example, tackles the problem of sex selection in Asia, the preference for boys over girls, leading to 117 million fewer females, mostly in China and India, according to the latest UN estimates.
The magazine regularly accuses global corporations and governments of human rights abuses and has led campaigns for global justice, but so far it has not been sued.
Co-editor Chris Brazier, 58, who lives in Hill Top Road, East Oxford, said that the reason it has not had to fight its corner in court is probably that the magazine is not big enough to be worth dealing with.
He said: “It could be more harmful to a company’s reputation to actually challenge accusations in court.”
But it has been warned.
Ms Baird, 58, from Silver Road, East Oxford, said: “When we did the issue on banks, the editors of the Australian issue were getting phone calls from one of the banks who felt they were about to be criticised, so we had a chat with our libel lawyer.”
In May this year, co-editor Hazel Healy wrote an article about land grabbing in Mozambique.
Peasant farmers were giving up their land to a forestry firm but then claimed they were not being properly compensated.
Ms Healy, 36, who lives in Oxford said: “The company doesn’t have a high profile in England, so it could cause them more trouble to draw attention to it.”
As well fighting a war of words, the company also leads campaigns and actively helps people work their way out of poverty by selling handicrafts produced by people in the developing world.
Products for sale in the New Internationalist catalogue range from table cloths made from recycled Bollywood movie posters to “freedom chickens” made out of plastic bags by some of the poorest people in South Africa.
In all, the company makes 45 per cent of its revenue from mail orders.
Labour MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith congratulated the company on its birthday.
He said: “It is very appropriate to have the magazine based in Oxford, given all the interest and expertise we have on development and poverty relief.
“We have Oxfam and a number of other organisations which are active on everything from agricultural development to micro-economics.
“It contributes to our economic and intellectual life.”
In a statement, Oxfam said it was “proud to have been among the founders” of New Internationalist.
The charity added: “The magazine blazed a trail, raising issues of global poverty and injustice that were getting scant attention in the mainstream news media.
“It almost single-handedly exposed the scandal of international companies irresponsibly promoting their formula milk to mothers who had little access to clean water to make the milk safe for their babies.
“Long may it continue to challenge the injustices in our world.”
Now, the magazine faces the same challenges as the rest of the print media industry — declining sales.
To celebrate its birthday, they produced an iPad version of the online magazine, and are now working on producing versions for all digital formats.
Find out more at newint.org
35,000 readers plus 100,000 website hits
AT the height of its success in 2000, New Internationalist had 75,000 subscribers.
That number is now 35,000.
Last year, the magazine’s website had 1.3m hits and about 100,000 unique users read an article on the site each month.
Unusually for a printed journal, less than five per cent of the magazine’s revenue comes from advertising.
The magazine only accounts for a third of the company’s total revenue.
Other publications, including a wide range of books and calendars make up about 20 per cent, but the lion’s share of revenue – 45 per cent – comes from mail orders from the catalogue: chickens made from plastic bags, recycled wind chimes and solar powered garden lights.
Annual turnover is about £2.5m, down from £3m in 2000.
Most years the company breaks even, but this year it expects to make a small loss.
The firm’s £800,000 in assets is mostly accounted for by its East Oxford offices, including a building next door which it rents out to Oxford Green Print.
How Third World First began it all
Peter and Lesley Adamson were students at Oxford University in the 1970s.
They founded a student programme called Third World First in which students pledged to donate one per cent of their student grant to developing countries.
New Internationalist magazine was initially sent to members of that organisation.
Mr and Mrs Adamson approached Oxfam and Christian Aid with the idea of creating an international magazine about development.
The two agencies provided £50,000 to set up a publishing company, Devopress, to produce such a magazine.
The first issue of New Internationalist was created from the offices in Wallingford and published in March 1973.
New Internationalist offices moved to Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford in 1980, and bought their current home in Rectory Road for £150,000 in 1993.
The company now has offices in Adelaide, Australia, Christchurch, New Zealand and Ottawa, Canada.
Third World First is now called People and Planet, and is still run by Oxford University students at the student hub above the Turl Street Kitchen.
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