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Once upon a time…

MANDELA: The Voice championed the freedom fighter's struggle

THIRTY ONE years ago today (Aug 28), The Voice was launched to provide a mouthpiece for Britain’s second generation of black citizens.

The very first issue concerned a racist gang making life a living hell for a Pakistani family in east London.

The issue of race attacks on Britain’s ethnic minorities was to be the first of many issues of concern to the black and Asian people that the mainstream media refused to take seriously but that The Voice would champion.

Launched as a London paper at the Notting Hill Carnival in 1982, the paper immediately found a receptive audience.

The first issue was deliberately designed in a lively, eye-catching , tabloid style.

Its copy was tight, punchy and made good use of photographs. The paper’s founder, Val McCalla, went out of his way to recruit young journalists to staff his paper, working on the basis that what they lacked in experience, they would make up in enthusiasm and knowledge of what this new market wanted to read.

It proved to be a winning formula.

GENERATION

Employed by the London local paper, the East End News, it was here that McCalla first had the idea for this new kind of black newspaper. His work then led him to believe that there was a whole generation of African-Caribbean people, living in London, whose news and views were being completely ignored by the mainstream media.

His thoughts were later confirmed when two years after Margaret Thatcher came to power at the head of a Tory government. Second generation black people were angry.


INAUGURAL ISSUE: The very first published copy of The Voice was handed out at Notting Hill Carnival in 1982

It was in this time that McCalla put together a consortium of businessmen and journalists and raised a bank loan for £62,000.

Although from the very beginning it was clear that there was an audience for The Voice, as with any new business ventures, the margins were tight.

There were hurdles and setbacks to overcome and it was my no means certain that the paper would survive.

ADVERTISING

It was the enthusiasm of the young team running the paper, led by Flip Fraser, the paper’s first editor, that saw them overcome these hurdles. A turning point came after nine months with a move to cheaper printing press. This enabled the paper to reduce its printing costs by 25 per cent. But what really allowed the paper to succeed was its advertising.

It is advertising that provides the bulk of the revenue that allows any paper to thrive.

Before The Voice, few advertisers recognised the black community as a viable consumer market with any purchasing power. Equally, few businesses made any real effort to target black people for employment.

The inner city uprisings of 1981 changed all of that.

The unrest was a cry against injustice; the injustice of continuing police harassment and brutality, but also the injustice of unfair representation amongst the country’s ranks of the unemployed.


DEVASTATED: Brixton after the riots

The first to take note were the local authorities. They quickly realised, with the increasing success of the paper, that the way to address the lack of minority representation amongst their employees was to specifically target black readers. This was done through recruitment ads in the paper.

It was this change in policy that provided the financial bedrock of the paper that we see today.

Over the years the need for the paper has only increased. As the second generation of black Britons has come of age it has been this paper that has charted their triumphs, tragedies and fears.

The 1980s wore on and tension between the police and the black community became increasingly fractious. It was this paper that spoke up.

When more and more black people were ‘dying’ in police custody it was this paper that fought to highlight and make the police accountable for their actions. The need for and the emergence of the country’s first black MPs was something championed, debated and pushed for by The Voice.

When the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was still referring to Nelson Mandela as a terrorist, it was this paper that shouted, for all proud black people around the country, that Mandela was a freedom fighter fighting against racial intolerance. Something we all identified with.

And when Bob Geldof put together a huge Live Aid music concert to raise funds for the starving of Ethiopia but, with the exception of Sade, omitted to include any black British acts, it was The Voice that, while praising Geldof’s sentiment, could not help but notice the slight.

Carnival Aid, a fund raising initiative begun by this paper and organised jointly with Oxfam, was the result. This was our effort to add to the good works of Geldof when we had apparently been excluded.


OLYMPIC HERO: Linford Christie

Out of the 1980s and into the 1990s, we saw the emergence of more and more sporting heroes. Frank Bruno, Linford Christie and Lennox Lewis to name just a few. Naomi Campbell raised temperatures in the world of fashion. Lenry Henry gave us something to smile about, while Moira Stuart and Trevor McDonald gave us something to think about.

COMMUNITY

And then there was Aswad and Soul II Soul and Craig David. Yes, we were coming of age as a community and The Voice was there to take note.

Over the years, the paper has, the paper has shifted and changed to adapt to its times. It has not always been all the things to all the people. It could never be. There were people who said the paper was too downmarket and those that said it was poorly put together.


NEWSCASTER: Trevor McDonald

There have always been those who said it would never last. In the end, whatever the faults of the paper, and The Voice would be the first to say it isn’t perfect…it is still here.

A final thought, remember Stephen Lawrence? In the days and weeks after his racially motivated attack, The Voice was the first and only newspaper to report the horror of what happened to him.

Like that very first issue, back in August 1982, looking at race attacks in Waltham Forest, it was The Voice that covered the story.


WASTED LIFE: Stephen Lawrence

What happened next in the Stephen Lawrence story is now history but it’s worth mentioning that when other news publications were not interested in the story, The Voice was.

That’s the difference The Voice has made and will continue to make.

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