How Welsh Magazines Could Thrive


Emily Trahair

There are not many topics I’m fearful of writing about. Luckily, Planet has a number of safeguards around freedom of speech. But however robust safeguards may be, most editors will have at least one issue that they feel ethically compelled to cover, whose presence haunts and hovers over their treatment of other topics, Jiminy Cricket-style; and yet the thought of actually publishing something on this subject would have their heart pounding, and in the middle of the night fumbling around (historically) for their fag packet or, perhaps more likely nowadays, their meditation app. For myself, chief among those topics is one that seems slightly pathetic: not some international intrigue, rather the conditions under which magazines in Wales are funded.

Throughout this editorial I’ll outline the different fears associated with discussing this issue; however the main motive for writing this is to make a constructive contribution to debates around protecting the future of all magazines in Wales – not only Planet, and we hope that this editorial, in conjunction with lobbying efforts from our funders and other bodies, will help raise awareness of the need for fair funding from the Welsh Government, both for the current franchise, and for whichever magazines win the forthcoming Welsh- and English-language grant franchises.

At the very outset, it’s important to recognise that a number of bodies are influential in how these funding decisions are made. The Books Council of Wales (BCW) is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation that while receiving funds from Welsh Government is formally autonomous from it. BCW decisions with regard to which publications are funded, and under what conditions, are made by independent panels and sub-committees of expert volunteers, albeit that the Five-Year Strategic Plan of the BCW has a role in determining the parameters of funding, and from the wording of recent grant tenders arguably seems to have an increasingly influential role. However, Welsh Government has a strong influence over funding, and it’s likely that the approach to funding magazines and websites has been shaped in part by Welsh Government priorities. It’s therefore often very difficult for publishers to determine whether the impetus behind a measure has ultimately come from BCW, its panels or sub-committees, or Welsh Government. To add extra complexity, since 2020 Welsh Government has created a new government agency, Creative Wales. Whether this development will lead to greater advocacy for the publishing sector at Welsh Government level, as we hope, or rather make the channels of dialogue and layers of accountability for addressing issues with funding more labyrinthine, further removing the prospect of redressing the issues, remains to be seen.

Relatedly, when considering the fairest way to challenge the funding conditions faced by magazines it’s important to assert this case with an open mind and generosity of spirit, and remember that the values held and approach taken by individuals within funding bodies, and within Welsh Government, are inevitably heterogenous, and can evolve over time – decisions would often not be unanimous. It’s important to stress that we have experienced genuine kindness, and sympathy for the problems magazines face as a result of funding decisions from individuals at various levels of responsibility within bodies influential in our funding. We are grateful for all BCW efforts to lobby Welsh Government for improved funding. Furthermore, as the sub-committee for English-language magazines are in the next few months reviewing the funding conditions and priorities for the forthcoming grant franchise, it’s possible that during the quarter that this Planet issue is current, many of the issues magazines have raised may be addressed.

However, from our experience in appealing for fair funding for magazines over the last decade, it’s arguable that unless readers and bodies wholly independent of Welsh Government express their support for magazines, there’s a risk that the various bodies responsible for the funding of magazines will not have the confidence to fully lever all the agency they have to ensure that magazines in both languages can have a viable future.

Another reason for the timing of this editorial is that we have just launched a crowdfunder for core costs (information about this can be found on the inside back cover) and owe it to our readers to explain the reasons why we are asking people to contribute, in a climate when so many other organisations are needing and seeking support. The reason for the unusual length of this editorial (I promise our readers this is a one-off...) is the need for sufficient context – there is much we can legitimately fear from our argument being mischaracterised by individuals in influential positions.

I’ll now outline some of the issues we have experienced as a consequence of funding decisions to illustrate a wider set of problems – most, perhaps all magazines and websites funded as part of the same franchise will have experienced significant strains caused by the funding franchise. In Planet’s case, the successive cuts we have experienced over the last thirteen years have had particularly severe consequences as we are a multi-subject, multi-platform publisher, whose content needs to be of sufficient substance and quality to be paid for; and as we are not part of a larger organisation such as a think tank or book publisher, rather all the work of running the business is undertaken by ourselves as a micro-organisation – a factor that nonetheless has also been vital for our survival and progressive character over fifty years, as I’ll go on to outline. However, the funding decisions we have experienced have set a precedent, and normalised asking more and more of publishers for less and less funding, creating a race to the bottom in terms of working conditions for funded magazines. Therefore I’m not just raising these issues on our behalf, but on behalf of other magazines and websites, in both languages, whether existing ones or those that may seek funding in the future, in an attempt to uplift everyone.

The problems we currently face stem most substantially from funding decisions that long predate the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic. Looking further back, to before responsibility for magazine funding was transferred from the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) to BCW in 2003, the amount of core funding we currently receive is less than half the amount we received from the Welsh Arts Council (as then known) not only in the early days of devolution and New Labour era, but also less than half the amount we received in the pre-devolution Thatcher era – not even factoring in inflation.

Firstly, a summary of funding decisions, before going on to examine their on-the-ground consequences. We first experienced cuts to the BCW grant from 2008 onwards due to WAG cuts to BCW funding – from £93,892 to £78,722. This was accompanied by funding conditions that further affected our sales income at the time, for example that we had to switch from being bi-monthly to quarterly. We tried to ameliorate this by publishing more content per issue, and retain our topicality by publishing additional material online.

There then followed a review of English-language magazines published in 2013, from which the BCW panel concluded that General Magazines (i.e. multi-subject ones) would have a further funding cut: the ones successful in the franchise could only receive up to £65,000; and would have to publish on at least one platform, and online readership figures would be evaluated alongside the print circulation figures as a new distribution minimum. The review also concluded that publishers would have to demonstrate that they had attracted sufficient additional income streams and/or contributions-in-kind (CIK), to compensate for the reduction in the grant, and in order to receive the grant at all. The funding offered per magazine was reduced further as in 2014 the Welsh Government interpreted a European Commission state aid ‘General Block Exemption Regulation’ (GBER) amendment as applying to English-language magazines funded by the BCW, which meant that magazines could only receive de minimis aid, which would be determined by the exchange rate between the pound and euro. Therefore, the most ourselves as one of the winning applicants could receive was £52,000. Thus, Planet’s funding was cut from £70,300 to £50,000 (with £2,000 set aside towards training for publishers). The distribution minimum was not adjusted in light of the state aid decision. In addition to our existing print magazine and free online material on Planet Extra, 2015-19 franchise targets required us to create a digital version of the magazine, which was also needed to compensate subscribers for the fact we’d have to publish fewer pages in the print magazine.

In 2017 we researched into the amendment to the EC GBER on state aid for magazines and made the argument that, for myriad reasons there is no space to detail here, magazines like Planet, and indeed all potential recipients of the grant we applied for, couldn’t conceivably distort cross-border trade according to the EU’s own definitions, exemptions and precedents. We contacted David Hughes the Head of Office at the EC Office in Wales about this. He consulted with his colleagues at the Directorate-General for Competition in Brussels who came to the same conclusion as he had, that magazines like Planet should never have been affected by the state aid regulation to begin with. However, while Hughes and ourselves contacted Welsh Government about this, the response from the Welsh Government department contacted was disappointing to say the least, and the state aid restrictions on BCW funding for English-language magazines remained. This not only meant that English-language magazines could no longer reach their potential, and had a very corrosive impact on working and living conditions; but raised wider dangers – which still hold in 2022, namely that this likely misinterpretation of state aid regulation set a precedent of undermining the principles of ‘cultural exception’ and ‘cultural diversity’, which could now be carried over into how state aid is interpreted in post-Brexit UK trade discussions, thereby eroding the case for financial support of Welsh publishing as a whole.

In winter 2018, the magazines sub-panel concluded that for the post-2019 franchise most existing magazine publishers who were successful in the franchise would experience a further cut, and in our case our grant was reduced from £50,000 to £45,000. The distribution minimum was maintained. The funding targets for the franchise were even more severe. The reason given for these cuts to existing publishers was the number of strong submissions to the scheme, and the sub-panel’s desire to fund a much greater number of publishers. Therefore, from 2009 onwards, the grant offered as part of the franchise has born no relation to performance nor need.

Thankfully, before the end of the 2019-20 financial year, the BCW sub-committee agreed that we had reached certain targets already; some other targets were later suspended for publishers due to the onset of the pandemic. However, the myriad tasks now required to keep the magazine viable following the funding cuts and the need for additional income streams and CIK mean that we are still desperately overstretched. The pandemic led to additional tasks, costs and losses – and it’s important to express our gratitude to BCW for two small emergency grants received to address some of the losses specifically caused by the pandemic; plus a Small Marketing Activities Grant to fund part of our 50th anniversary fundraiser. We now face rising costs of production and the cost-of-living crisis.

A particularly critical problem for those magazines most acutely affected by under-funding is unpaid overtime, largely undertaken by employees or freelancers who are also directors. Planet has never been in a position to offer generous wages, and editors and other staff have always volunteered some extra hours to keep the magazine viable. However, due to grant reductions, our paid staff hours have had to be reduced to 27, 27 and 13, i.e. 1.8 FTE employee hours (plus a very small fee to a quarterly guest book review editor). In that time, the tasks necessitated by the grant franchises and cuts have increased significantly; and moreover due to external factors the bureaucracy required for running a micro-business has mushroomed. While have made every efficiency possible in terms of time-management, stripping day-to-day tasks back to those that are essential – including for creating a publication of sufficient quality; as an example, while my paid hours are 27 per week, I work 40-70 hours, and occasionally well over 80 – only a small proportion of these hours would be the ‘creative’ tasks of commissioning, editing and writing editorials, which are undertaken almost exclusively later and later into the night and over the weekend. In the 2018 franchise application I estimated my annual overtime hours to be substantially greater than my annual paid hours. However the response of the sub-panel was to further reduce the grant and also make targets more stringent, which would necessitate further unpaid overtime.

Due to the grant franchises we have received the same wage per hour since 2012 of £12 per hour. If the need arose (thankfully it hasn’t yet) we would not be able to offer statutory parental or sickness pay, nor in most cases working hours suitable for a parent, carer or someone recovering from an illness, at least not without a massive increase in grant. While we offer a statutory pension in line with regulations, the two members of staff with the greatest number of hours have decided to opt-out as we know that neither ourselves nor Planet could currently afford it. A former editor currently undertakes a final proof read just before publication unpaid, but for myriad ethical and practical reasons we cannot start distributing further staff tasks to volunteers – for a start tasks are mostly highly specialised, usually very demanding and require extensive training up.

The working conditions have worsened so much under recent grant franchises that while we have no intention of moving on due to our commitment to the magazine, if one of us did it would no longer be feasible to advertise our positions, especially that of the editor, nor would we have the capacity to train up new staff members. It would likely now be impossible for any employee living where Planet is based to afford to live independently of parents or a partner unless they were from a particularly wealthy background.

Thankfully we have managed to keep morale from guttering out – and thus survived ‘The Great Resignation’ – in large part I would argue due to the particular way we are structured in line with our ethos, whereby all staff get the same wage per hour and always form the majority in board meetings, whether or not they are directors; supplemented by expertise and support from other directors (who have sufficient experience in the specificities of running a cultural and political magazine in a Welsh context in order to carry out their legal duties to the company). This is supplemented further by a wider support network and system of scrutiny and expertise from (e.g.) an advisory board, accountant, and membership of the FSB, Public Interest News Foundation and the press regulator Impress.

Over the last four years I’ve heard the desperation and often sheer bafflement from staff from many other magazines (some only in post for a short time) about the working conditions that grant levels determine. Some of these magazines have experienced cuts, others have had standstill funding for many years, newer magazines often never received adequate levels of grant to begin with. While working conditions are intolerable even for middle-class staff, they are even harder for working-class staff, and those with any caring responsibilities – which an ostensibly left-wing and feminist ruling party should take note of.

These issues take on particular time-sensitivity with regard to Welsh-language magazines, both existing and new titles, as they apply for the 2023-27 BCW funding franchise – like its English-language equivalent, an open and competitive tender. The guidelines to the franchise application raise the issue of rising production and living costs – acknowledgement of which is very welcome – however it states that as ‘there has been no corresponding increase in the funding provided by the Government to the Council ... it is almost inevitable that there will be changes in the number and type of titles supported’. This raises the bleak possibility of either the loss of some of Wales’ unique, outstanding existing magazines and/or that newer magazines would never have the chance they should have enjoyed to flourish, thereby depriving the Welsh-language public sphere of a vitally diverse media ecosystem that can appeal to all readers. It is surely vital that Welsh Government offer boosted funding for Welsh-language magazines to retain the same number of titles.

There are myriad reasons why core funding is essential for the survival of Welsh magazines of journalistic and cultural value that there is not space to detail here, and it is clear that magazines that focus on Wales and don’t have a commercial, populist editorial focus couldn’t compete in an open market against the London- and US-dominated Anglophone media. Public subsidy for magazines is not only essential for their survival, but moreover nothing to be ashamed of. The miasma of shame around grants to enable a healthy Welsh public sphere as part of the nation-building process is indicative of the insidious, even unconscious presence of neo-Thatcherism among elements of the Welsh elite. In fact adequate funding for magazines would be something to be proud of – Wales’s historic record in doing so makes us very ahead of our time, as post-Leveson Inquiry the UK has woken up to the need for conscientious, economically viable public interest journalism, through organisations like the Public Interest News Foundation and indeed in Labour’s 2019 election manifesto.

However, magazine grant schemes are dwarfed by Welsh Government funding given to commercial creative projects whose contribution to Welsh cultural specificity and nation-building is variable at best, and in some cases are owned by very wealthy organisations, as Kieron Smith noted in an article in Planet 238 ‘Culture Is More Than Flag-Bearing: State Support for the Arts’. The need for greater public funding for English-language journalism has clearly been recognised – it’s been pledged as part of the Plaid-Labour co-operation agreement and £100,000 has been put aside by Creative Wales, but what kinds of journalistic activity this will fund, and when, remains to be seen.

While there are many compelling reasons why restoring adequate levels of funding to magazines would be perfectly achievable even considering the economic pressures on Welsh Government budgets, there remain a number of fears about making this argument to Welsh Government. The main fear is that in challenging funding levels and their consequences there would be such a defensive backlash that funding for magazines could be threatened altogether. There is also a fear that calls for fair working conditions for magazine publishers would just not be taken seriously. This is because in some quarters publishing staff are simply not viewed as employees at all. This relates to a deep-rooted, romanticised perception that the work of publishing is wholly ‘a labour of love’ and ‘a vocation not a job’. This mythologising around work in the creative and media sectors means that these employees are seen as almost more otherworldly than ‘normal’ workers, and calls for fair work would be as laughable as a shaman demanding a pension or a garret artist invoking the working time directive. The reality is that we are ordinary mortals with (steeply rising) bills to pay. These perceptions are also inaccurate as even before magazines faced cuts, only a small percentage of work would relate directly to magazine content, and that proportion has got smaller over time – other tasks, such as administration, are often highly specialised and can be rewarding (under the right conditions) but are certainly not ones that conform to the freewheeling, bohemian stereotypes associated with the production of cultural magazines. Of course there is a kind of magical euphoria to some of the work undertaken for magazines – the cracking open of the first box of issues from the printers; when against all expectations one of your favourite writers accepts a pitch – and moreover it is a labour of love in many ways, which is why publishers are so fearful of jeopardising the magazine they love by publicly challenging the conditions they work under.

Those who work for funded magazines accept that there will inevitably be some element of unpaid work compared to other sectors – especially for editors, and wouldn’t begrudge this. Employees of independent, grassroots magazines like Planet also, in my experience, know that it would be unrealistic to expect levels of pay received by those in other organisations indirectly funded by the government, such as universities, the BBC or funding bodies. However, current levels of pay and overtime are without a doubt utterly unsustainable. What is heartening in terms of transforming perceptions of ‘intellectual’ and ‘creative’ labour is seeing the figurehead for the Enough is Enough movement Mick Lynch championing the struggles of the UCU (the university and college union) alongside those of rail-workers.

It’s fair to note that the BCW Strategic Plan gives as a priority ‘An industry which pays sufficiently to attract the best talent; that embraces fair pay and good working conditions’. Likewise, Welsh Government has increasingly cited its Fair Work agenda in the context of all sectors including culture and the media. However, without restoring adequate core funding for individual magazines ‘Fair Work’ in magazine publishing will not be possible. Furthermore, other priorities in the Strategic Plan and recent tender documents have the potential to undermine fair working conditions if manifested in certain ways – even if inadvertently, which also brings us back to the question of the extent to which Welsh Government increasingly influences the strategic direction of funding bodies, or not, and whether this reflects wider contradictions between neo-Thatcherism and social democracy that often plague the policies of Welsh Labour.

One example of a funding condition that has the potential – especially when combined with underfunding – to affect working conditions is the ‘gearing ratio’ and need for publishers to demonstrate that they have attracted sufficient additional income streams or contributions-in-kind in order to receive a grant, thereby reducing reliance on BCW funding. This has been a grant condition since 2015 and is part of a growing emphasis on publishers offering ‘value for money’. This sounds innocuous enough in theory, but there are a number of unintended ‘on-the-ground’ consequences of trying to force the square of neoliberal business logic into the round hole of public-interest journalism of cultural value run by not-for-profit micro-organisations like Planet.

Firstly, while we have all the expertise we need in our staff, board and wider support network to identify the best additional income streams, partnerships and contributions-in-kind for Planet, the number of tasks needed to actually implement any effective ideas simply means yet more unpaid overtime for staff. We achieve the gearing ratio funding condition, and thus ‘replace’ some lost funding but at significant cost to working conditions.

A corollary of the aura of shame around grants I described earlier – grants that are vital for magazines’ survival – is that there develops the notion among powers-that-be that if a magazine receives public funding they have to struggle on it. The idea that it’s OK for magazines and their staff to thrive on public funding, albeit modestly, in exchange for producing exemplary content, has become less common, even though better-resourced entities and their CEOs positively gorge on Welsh taxpayers’ money. (This notion isn’t espoused by everyone responsible for funding, by any means, but gradually becomes the status quo which is deferred to, even subconsciously.) This way of thinking is at odds with the increasingly anti-austerity direction among the public, and growing calls for Universal Basic Income etc.

Secondly, it’s especially vital that media organisations whose raison d’être is to ‘speak truth to power’ and scrutinise the public, third and private sectors in a small nation ‘without fear or favour’ remain wholly structurally independent, and avoid all conflicts of interest. This is even more important if a magazine is in receipt of public funding. Any student of media history knows the myriad ways (formally or informally) in which an entity or individual can exert pressure on a publication if the publication depends on them for funds. Luckily, we have so far managed to forge valuable partnerships that haven’t affected our editorial and structural freedom (the two freedoms are inextricably connected) but in the current economic climate all partnerships are precarious and increasingly hard to source.

Another aspect of the current approach to funding magazines that has the potential to undermine working conditions, even inadvertently, is the particular way in which the increasingly prioritised principle of ‘challenging incumbency’ of funded publications could be manifested. To be very clear – in making this case I’m not challenging the principle of open, competitive tenders for magazine funding. Obviously there needs to be an environment where new publications can flourish. Also, existing magazines obviously need rigorous external scrutiny, and if significantly failing in their quality (for reasons they are responsible for, and not e.g. because of underfunding) there needs to be a mechanism by which funding can be wholly removed – if the panel responsible are confident that this would be acceptable to the Welsh reading public that they serve.

Rather, there is potential for injustices to emerge if the principle of challenging incumbency is in conjunction with a fiercely competitive tender over a small pot of money, in an environment where existing publishers feel under pressure to demonstrate a positive attitude towards funding conditions and strategy or risk losing funding to other, more grateful and amenable publishers; and also demonstrate their ‘value for money’, where the working hours required to meet certain targets are not factored in. While this could not have been the intention, this nonetheless creates a dynamic whereby publishers feel increasingly fearful of being the only publisher to put their head above the parapet and speak out about the working conditions determined by grant levels.

The race to the bottom for working conditions is thus exacerbated. In the back of our minds is the phantasmic presence of a reserve army of labour consisting of employees of new magazines and websites, cheerfully coping on low wages, brimming with energy and willing to work until the small hours, who could receive funding in our place (before becoming burnt out or skint in a few years and likely replaced themselves). From a left-wing perspective the neoliberal dynamic behind this would be glaringly obvious if it was present in any other sector, indeed this is the very dynamic that Welsh Government is surely trying to challenge through the Fair Work and Social Partnership agenda; but the glamorous, shimmering aura around ‘creative’ work can genuinely obfuscate an awareness of this, and I would earnestly appeal to all parties involved in the funding of magazines to ensure that this dynamic (one that I don’t think was created intentionally) is nonetheless addressed.

If Welsh Government and related bodies really want to see an increasingly diverse range of magazines as part of the flowering of the nation-building process, and also avoid poor working conditions, they have no choice but simply to significantly increase the money made available for magazines every few years so that more publications can be funded with more money per magazine, in line with inflation.

Another factor is that since the 2008 recession, severe cuts to funding levels for magazines have at times been accompanied by a more top-down, interventionist approach towards publishers on the part of funders (where there has been no wrongdoing on the part of the publisher, needless to say) thereby being in danger of compromising the vital autonomy and freedom of media organisations – a loss of agency which becomes even more problematic when companies are in large part run by their workers. (Naturally, a funding body needs to rigorously evaluate the quality, reach and contemporary relevance of a publication, setting reasonable targets related to this; plus of course offering sufficient scrutiny of company accounts and other material to ensure no wrongdoing in light of the company receiving public funds. In addition offering non-binding advice and training on any aspects of running a publishing company. However, it is the surely still the responsibility of the funded companies as autonomous legal entities to use their best judgement about how to reach their targets and generally act in the best interests of the company and their employees.)

Such interventionist measures had, I believe, been proposed with good intentions, but as in so many institutional contexts where ‘remote control’ is applied, had been often based on a misunderstanding about context on the ground, and would lead to a number of unintended practical and/or ethical consequences detrimental to the business and/or the welfare of employees, e.g. necessitating more overtime. (An approach that also surely exposes a body requiring such measures to potential risks if they had been deemed to have effectively taken on executive control of a company, overriding the legal responsibilities of directors.) However, thanks to the vital channels of communication inherent within the structures of BCW, we have very often and especially latterly been able to redress problematic proposals through dialogue with our BCW grants officers (who bridge communication with the panels).

However, a concern has emerged recently among publishers that the proposed ‘Cultural Contract’ – whereby companies who receive Welsh Government funds sign up to pledges supporting the wider policy context of Welsh Government – would further remove agency from publishers and their employees, especially if ultimately shaped not by BCW but by Creative Wales or Welsh Government, who do not have such channels of dialogue with individual publishers. Its parameters have yet to be determined, and many of the general principles would be ones we’d likely share, albeit from a different perspective. However, on examining the initial plans for the Cultural Contract, if there was any obligation on publishers to implement certain specific measures, this could have negative unintended consequences which would not be apparent to any organisation that isn’t the publisher in question – both practically and ethically, often including negative ethical consequences with regard to the progressive cause the measure is trying to support. There is also the fundamental issue that grassroots media organisations surely don’t exist to help the government reach its policy objectives – rather to scrutinise these authorities’ ethical record and reflect the progressive values of their readers, from the bottom up.

This editorial has been written in the spirit of wanting to make a constructive contribution to new debate on the funding of the Welsh media, for example a helpful intervention in support of improved funding by National Union of Journalists Welsh executive member David Nicholson in a welsh agenda article from 29 September 2022 (available online), sparked in part by the vulnerability of Welsh-language magazines as the next funding franchise comes around. The perspective of the NUJ (of which I am a member, albeit not an active one) is very welcome – as a body wholly independent of government they have a vital role to play in saving the Welsh magazine sector in both languages.

In this way, it’s useful to try to imagine a different future reality for funded magazines, a scenario whereby adequate funding levels for individual magazines were restored, and where alongside requisite scrutiny of magazines by funders, magazines would retain their structural autonomy and freedom, and have the time to focus on publishing extraordinary material that serves the best interests of the Welsh public in its diversity, initiating from the grassroots up pioneering, progressive ways of addressing the nation’s democratic deficit. In this scenario, not only magazines, their employees and readers would benefit: funders would be relieved of the strain of having to administer the minutiae of any time-intensive, unduly interventionist measures and unsustainably low funding levels.

The most innovative, brave and world-class material does not come to be published as a consequence of a funding environment where magazines are ‘kept on their toes’ in a financially precarious state with punitive targets. If editors are up all night doing tasks related to income-raising etc., this has dulling, dampening effect on creative experimentation and making proposals to new writers – all of which take time. Moreover, underfunding means less time for editors to keep up with current affairs, read, attend cultural events and simply hear people’s stories (some of the best features we’ve published in the past have emerged from conversations in the pub or on a bus). Magazine staff all I imagine have a list of particularly ambitious ideas for features, design, marketing and more they would love to implement, but don’t have the time to pursue in a context of critical understaffing.

However, in sketching out an alternative future for magazines, I would diverge a little from the vision outlined by David Nicholson. He relays an NUJ proposal for a journalism foundation that could administer funding instead of bodies like BCW. While the NUJ’s definition of ‘journalism’ may well be admirably broad, I would argue that as long as BCW find a way of being divested of the strand of neoliberalism that runs through recent measures (which may or may not be a consequence of Welsh Government intervention) for magazines like Planet, BCW remain the most appropriate body to administer funding.

This is in part as magazines like ourselves are in an unbroken line of publications from The Red Dragon of the 1880s onwards which serve a fundamental characteristic of Welsh public life in both languages – namely how current affairs, political thought, social justice issues, literature and culture are inextricably woven together, in ways that go beyond conventional journalism. The ‘cultural’ magazine as vessel for radically transformative political ideas is expressed in everything from ysgrifau to contemporary poetry, life writing, auto-fiction, opinion pieces, reviews, hybrids of all these and more. Moreover, the flourishing of magazines designed to be permanent artefacts in people’s collections, containing articles of lasting value that often continue to inspire and be cited decades later, means that it’s no contradiction that their funding is administered by a body largely responsible for book publishing. Within the various structures of BCW are people who are wholly embedded in this Welsh grassroots eco-system of activism, literature and community life, an eco-system which is driven by an egalitarian ethos.

But what if the wider funding environment for magazines can’t be freed from irreconcilable drives towards egalitarianism on the one hand and neoliberalism on the other? It will be magazines – and quite possibly the wellbeing of their staff – that will collapse under the weight of these contradictions.

Planet at 50: A Celebratory Event hosted by the National Library of Wales. Watch this video of founding editor Ned Thomas and current editor Emily Trahair in conversation with author Mike Parker at this event from December 2020 to see what’s changed, what hasn’t, and why a publication subtitled ‘The Welsh Internationalist’ is needed now more than ever. Many thanks to the National Library for hosting this event in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

About the author

Emily Trahair is Editor of Planet.