The Last Thing the World Needs Is Another Festival! That’s why we created Byline Festival


Middle class people love festivals. For a few days, they can pretend they are creative and a little bit rebellious with the help of glitter and a yurt. Then they go back to their professional jobs and reading the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph. 

It is big business. Now that nobody buys music, festivals are increasingly the main commercial gig for music acts and the music business. That is why Live Nation is busy buying up festivals like Wilderness and turning them into ‘shopping malls in a field’. 

So, the last thing Peter Jukes and I wanted to do was to create another festival. As an ex punk and playwright, we were happy running Byline.com, the world’s largest crowd-funded site for independent journalism and Byline Investigates, that fights for truth and justice much to the trepidation of the Daily Mail and Murdoch Press. 

Then Trump, Fake News, Brexit, Universal Credit came along in 2016 and the world seemed much darker, so we thought we needed to do something bigger and reach more people so we decided to create Byline Festival. It was important to us to bring people together and show that not everyone wanted to be a billionaire or to lie and cheat. 

We wanted to combine over talks and workshops about serious issues with comedy, music, spoken word and theatre, but all with a bit of attitude. We had no idea if it would work but we tried it out in our first festival in 1000 acres of ancient forest at Pippingford Park in East Sussex last June. We were relieved when 3000 people turned up and had a great time. 

One of the highlights of last year’s festival was the Bad Press Awards, presented by John Cleese along with Joanna Scalan, Andy Hamilton and Hardeep Singh Kohli. In our workshops, people could write a protest song with a well-known punk band, find out how to make podcasts, investigate corruption, learn stand up comedy and how to riot. We all danced to the London Ska Festival and over 70 music acts headlined by The Blow Monkeys. Also, importantly, our foundation funded young people from under-represented and misrepresented communities to come to the festival. 

This year we are far more ambitious. We are expecting 5000 people and have extended the festival to four days as we have so much more to cover and also added three more venues. We have partnered up with the Frontline Club, who are the world’s most famous journalist organisation.

We are determined that the festival will be even more fun, but importantly, more thought-provoking and inspire people to be more activist. So, as well as a spectacular circus from New Orleans, more bands, art wars, rap battles; we are running ‘The Assembly’ every day to develop a ‘Bill of Wrongs’. We  will present this the Opening of Parliament. The Assembly will be facilitated by Birgitta Jonsdottir, who led an initiative to crowd-source a constitution for Iceland and Jamie Kelsey from Occupy.

 Also, the Cambridge Analyitica whistleblowers Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sannie,in  will be speaking along with Lauri Love who successfully fought his extradition to America.

As well as politicians like Damian Collins, Sir Vince Cable, Baroness Warsi, Rushanara Ali and Tom Watson, we have many panels with people who have real experience of homelessness, mental health, poverty, asylum seeking. 

This year we have some new areas in the festival including: Trumpton’s Village Fete that will offer a post Brexit vision of England with Morris Dancing and a Sexy Vegetable competition. Also, theOther Bit at Byline Festival will be created and run by an enthusiastic Millennial group of Byline supporters.

Our speakers  and performers this year include: Bonnie Greer, Hugh Grant, June Sarpong, Gary Lineker, Kate Mosse, A.L. Kennedy, Martin Bell, Alexei Sayle, Jonnie Bayfield, The Vapors, The Priscillas, Rhoda Darkar and Caroline Cadwalldr.

Our mission for the festival is to ‘Dance, Discuss, Laugh and Change The World’. As long as we can do this well,we think there is room for just one more festival.

Byline Festival, 24-27 August, Pippingford Park, Nutley, East Sussex, TN22EHW
Tickets and information at www.bylinefestival.com
 

9 reasons you should come to the Byline Festival.

This year, Byline Festival is expecting twice the amount of people, compared to those who attended last year; but just why should you attend the Byline Festival? Here are nine reasons.

Journalists.

As a trainee journalist myself, I am eager to attend this festival for the journalists who will be there. However, in my *humble* opinion, journalists are some of the most interesting people-they usually have a story or two to tell! Speakers for this year include people like Martin Bell and Nick Davies. 

'Famous' people.

For some people, 'Fame' holds an almost odd level of fascination. There will be people like Hugh Grant (speaker), John Cleese (Performer), and Gary Lineker ( Speaker) attending the festival-for performances and talks. 

The talks.

It would virtually be impossible to bored and Byline Festival; there is something to keep you occupied over the four days. There are a lot of talks to get involved with. 

Workshops. 

Fancy writing a protest poem or song? Or are you interested in Investigative journalism for beginners? Or would you like to make your own placards? Either way, there are many, many workshops. With something to suit everyone, come and learn something new, and have fun whilst doing it. 

The live music.

One of the main ideas about Byline festival is that it was not going to be a commercial festival, in the sense of Glastonbury, with mainstream acts. There are going to be several musical performances; why not try something new, and less mainstream? 

The sheer amount of topics covered.

The festival will be cover a variety of topics and subjects, including: #MeToo and the new age of consent; Whitelash (the same name given to a panel event at the NUJ last year); the end of Facebook; Good Friday Disagreement ; Death of local journalism ; Fake Arts News ; We need to talk about London ; and more. 

The Bad Press Awards.

Byline is an organisation that doesn't exactly mince its words when looking at the National Press; however, the Bad Press Awards will be returning for this year! Why not nominate a particular piece of terrible journalism for an award? 

The recreational* vibe of 1968.

Because who would not want a peace loving vibe at a festival? It also fits with the Byline festival tag line: "Think. Debate. Laugh. Dance. And change the world."

*Pun intended.

Alternative politics. 

It's fair to say that over the last few years, Politics has been tumultuous; there has also been a lot of unexpected changes. But instead of putting forward the same old messages by Political Parties (because the exact refrain never seems to stop!), Byline allows for the exploration of alternative politics.

This is only a small portion of what will be happening at the Festival; there is still more being planned. So why not get involved? To book tickets, click here. 

Interview with Stephen Colegrave, Co-Director of Byline Festival.

This year, the Byline festival will be bigger and better than before; to find out more, I interviewed Stephen Colegrave, the co-director of Byline.

HOW DID YOU COME TO THE IDEA OF SETTING UP THE FESTIVAL?

We realised that people pledging for our Byline crowd-funding platform for independent journalists were keen to meet the people they were funding and we run a series of events with journalist and other experts/commentators. We wanted to find a way to reach an even bigger audience so we decided to set up the world’s first festival for Independent Journalism a sort of Sundance for Independent Journalists. As an ex-punk and a playwright we thought we were eminently suitable to do this. From the seat we wanted it to be a festival and not a conference with music, comedy and theatre as we wanted attract a wide audience who were against fake news and the rise of populism not just traditional journalists, although they were essential too.

 HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PLANNING THE EVENT?

It is a year long process. At the start we are most focused on money – raising it and budgeting it. The festival is incredibly expensive eventhough all our performers and speakers participate for free. Like most festivals we only expect to break even in year 3. Then the fun bit begins working out the themes and approaching speakers and performers. As the news and events are a big part of the speaking and panel sessions we have to leave enough flexibility in the programme to cope with any last minute events – like last year when we had a General Election announced for five days after the festival!

WHAT IS IN STORE FOR THIS YEAR?

 We are expecting twice the number of people from 3000 to 6000. Importantly we are now in partnership with Frontline Club and we are relaunching the festival as Byline Festival with Frontline Club. They are great partners and there members include some of the greatest names in journalism and their worldwide freelance journalism community is a great asset.

We have a circus big top as our biggest venue this year which will take more than 1000 people standing and more if the weather is good. With the help of the New Orleans Fly Circus Space is helping us create a spectacular show on our themes of a better press. Hugh Grant, June Sarpong, John Sweeney, Bonnie Greer, Luke Harding, Carole Cadwalldr, John Cleese and many more are already signed up.

We are running the festival for an extra day and night and will accommodate more than 150 speaking sessions, 100 workshops, 12 plays, 90 music acts, as well as comedy and spoken word.

WHY DID YOU DECIDE ON THE FESTIVAL FORMAT?

 We wanted to reach a wider and younger audience. We are keen to appeal to all types of people who are part of the media of the future from bloggers, to YouTubers, film makers, journalists and also to make sure a wider population appreciated the importance of a free and quality press and the importance of supporting it. We felt this was the only way to get out of the echo chamber of traditional journalist events. Also we want it to be a platform for other organisations that share our aims and vision to be able to connect with a wider audience.

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING AN INDEPENDENT AND ACCOUNTABLE PRESS?

 I wish we had one! I think that neither Trump nor Brexit would have happened if there had been one, nor would their be so much racism and misogyny.To us there cannot be democracy, truth or justice without one. This is why Peter and I are so determined to make Byline a force to be reckoned with.

WHAT HAS THE STUDENT REACTION BEEN LIKE TO THE FESTIVAL?

 Excellent so far. Many volunteered and also they really appreciated the workshops and the chance to join in the discussions as well as hear from leading journalists. This year we are looking for students to be reporters for each of the sessions. We are keen for as much feedback from student festival-goers. To encourage students to come we have a specially discounted ticket that currently is £35 versus £120.

DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR EXPANSION?

 We want to expand the current festival to 5 days and 12,000 people. In November we ran our first mini festival in New York and want to expand to a full scale festival there. Currently we are looking at California and Berlin. Also we want to create another Byline Festival in the North of England.

WHAT CAN PEOPLE EXPECT FROM THE BYLINE FESTIVAL?

 They can expect a change from the commercial music festivals and a much more thought provoking experience with all the fun of a festival in beautiful surroundings. We want them to be inspired to do something they hadn’t done before. Our strap line is: Dance, Discuss, Laugh and Change the World. We want the experience to change them so they can make a difference and that doesn’t just have to be about journalism but about the injustices we see all around us.

AS TO THE MAIN BYLINE WEBSITE: WAS THE WEBSITE MODEL OF CROWD-FUNDING JOURNALISTS BUILT ON THE BACK OF PETER’S EXPERIENCE COVERING THE PHONE HACKING TRIAL?

 Yes. Peter was keen to help others do what he had done. He was concerned that so many great journalists were finding it difficult to earn a living and wanted to provide the crowd-funding platform to help this. Also, we are keen to create a more direct relationship between journalists and their readers/ supporters. Of course it was important that there was no editorial control as long as our writers abide by the Impress code.

WOULD YOU LIKE THE MODEL OF CROWD-FUNDING JOURNALISTS, WITH NO ADS, TO BECOME AN INDUSTRY WIDE PRACTICE?

I think it is one model that works and we would like many more people to follow our model and are keen to help anyone who wants to. However I do think there are other interesting models for the future and this is something that is an important discussion topic at the festival.

CAN YOU DIVULGE WHAT BYLINE IS CURRENTLY INVESTIGATING? 

 We have important ongoing investigations on Russian interference in democracy, the corruption in many parts of the British Press and the British Justice System.

HOW CAN YOU COME TO WRITE FOR BYLINE?

 Byline is a curated platform which means that we select the writers on their expertise and subjects. We are always looking for new writers and are pleased for people to approach us with ideas. Once you are confirmed as a Byline Writer you have the passwords to upload articles whenever you want. There is more information. at Byline.com

ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROJECTS THAT ARE UPCOMING THAT YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?

We have started a publishing imprint Byline Books and have printed our first book In Limbo and will launch our next crowd-funded book in a couple of weeks and plan to have another five or six books by the festival. Also we are working on a very big project that will be a major initiative in news gathering which we are hoping to launch internationally with a partner in a few months – watch this space!

This interview was originally published on Mademoisellewomen.com.