Believed to be Britain’s longest serving magazine editor, Satish Kumar talks media sensationalism, core communication values and why it’s time to push the boundaries of thoughtful reporting
Can the mainstream media be more radical and serve as a forum for genuine ideas, education and discussion, rather than being sensationalist, negative and driven by money – and still be financially sustainable?
According to Satish Kumar, thought to be Britain’s longest serving magazine editor, the answer is yes. As he celebrates 40 years at Resurgence & The Ecologist magazine, Kumar told Positive News: “The media should be an open forum for free discussion, debate, opinions, dialogue, comment; that’s Resurgence’s aim. We want to be radical, we don’t want circulation for the sake of it. I want the people who read it to be interested in going deeper into the ideas we cover.
Most media “are in the business of selling,” he said, “not in the business of communication. Money should only be a by-product, it shouldn’t be the main aim.
“If you want to make money, you should go and run a shop or do some manufacturing. Of course, yes, you must ensure that you are not losing money, you must make sure that people are interested and they buy and support through whatever means. But, it shouldn’t be the main aim. Resurgence has never been in debt.”
Resurgence started life in 1966, founded by well-known peace campaigner John Papworth. It spawned The Ecologist four years later, and in 2012, the two magazines merged. Focusing on environmental issues, the title has 10,000 subscribers in print, and claims 150,000 online visitors a month collectively for its two wesbites, as well as 30,000 Facebook fans.
“The media should be an open forum for free discussion, debate, opinions, dialogue, comment”
The whole operation is run as a charity, with subscribers covering 80% of its costs, and donors, which include the likes of former Ecologist editor Zac Goldsmith, covering the remaining 20%.
Kumar believes all media should be run through similar charitable trust or social enterprise models, just as the Guardian, BBC and, of course, Positive News are.
But there is still room, he believes, for the likes of the BBC to give more space to cutting-edge ideas.
“Those ideas on the fringe, no one touches them,” he says. “We have Caroline Lucas on Question Time now that she is an MP, but it’s always just the mainstream political parties on there. Someone has to push things. Why not bring in some young students for the programme for example?”
Kumar is also keen to promote the use of “non-violent language” in the media and Resurgence has always had this method of communication at its heart.
“That means: I don’t claim to think I’m right and everyone else is wrong. That would be violent. The mainstream media criticises everyone and sits in judgement. It is violent. Our magazine is just communicating and expressing how we think things and how our authors think.
“We honestly try to explore ideas, positive language and words; we want to build people’s confidence, encourage them to do something that is good for society and good for the Earth. Most media is just interested in pleasing advertisers. Like the fashion magazines, they’re just interested in selling. They become sensationalist to sell; it’s a kind of violence.”
Kumar’s continuing aim with the magazine is to increase social and environmental awareness. It’s paying off, because he says he can see that society is changing.
“I would say in the last 10 out of my 40 years, there has been a kind of shift in consciousness as people realise materialism doesn’t fulfil them,” he says. “I speak to students and they say they have everything, but still feel a vacuum. They are looking for better relationships with nature and communities. I don’t think we’ve reached tipping point yet, but you never know when a big change might come.”