Reflecting on our Media Power and Plurality event last week, Douglas White from the Carnegie UK Trust, looks at policy initiatives to help new market entrants
One of the most interesting discussion points at the Media Plurality and Power event at City University on 2 May was around the interventions that are needed to help new players in the media market flourish.
Our Neighbourhood News project, outlined here by project evaluator Will Perrin, founder of Talk About Local, and described by Will at the conference, has produced six key lessons from its first six months of operation. These six lessons from the local news projects delivered by five ‘Carnegie Partners’ across the UK highlight the importance of local news organisations to their communities and how local news might be delivered in the future. We believe they are a good starting point for any funders and policymakers interested in supporting the provision and sustainability of local news:
- Local, grassroots news organisations can deliver a significant range of community news and information, in return for quite a low level of investment. For example, in just four months Your Harlow alone published 850 stories and 90 videos. This suggests that the local community news sector has the capacity to deliver projects that can deliver a high level of output in a short period of time, and can provide good value for money for both citizens and funders.
- Local news organisations are often successful at attracting volunteer time and pro bono input from professional journalists to supplement paid wages. Brixton Blog, for instance, has levered 112 volunteer hours (£1,557 at national average hourly rate) with £1,400 of paid labour.
- Local news can be used as a tool for community engagement, action and cohesion. To date, the Carnegie Partner projects have featured stories that matter to their communities, such as poor street lighting, library closures and the local impact of benefit cuts. And they have often done so in new and locally innovative ways. For example, the Digital Sentinel held a chat with local police and fire services on Twitter, asking a range of questions on topics from knife crime to noisy neighbours to the number of police officers on their streets.
- Grassroots community news organisations made up of freelancing and volunteer contributors are subject to competing demands on their time, such as employment, family and pre-existing commitments. These real-life time pressures can cause disruption in delivering consistent output, but they are pressures which funders must respect in order to improve long-term local news provision and deliver community benefits.
- Recruiting individuals with skills which supplement core journalism skills, such as advertising sales and IT know how, which help to sustain local news projects can be a challenge. These issues can impact on news production, and again, it is important for funders to take a long-term perspective and show understanding and tolerance to any delays incurred.
- Taking the time to ensure that the correct structure is in place is important for the success of local new organisations. This will allow local news organisations to balance competing demands and volume and quality of output on schedule, but can be an ongoing challenge. Getting this balance right is not always straightforward, and needs careful consideration.
These six lessons have formed the basis of six discussion questions posed by the Trust in our Neighbourhood News – The Time is Now policy summary [PDF]. We’d be delighted to hear from #MediaPlurality14 attendees on these questions and how we can challenge funders, policymakers and practitioners to support and deliver new and improved neighbourhood news.
This article gives the views of the author/s, and does not necessarily represent the position of the Media Power and Plurality Project. We welcome further views and contributions to the media plurality policy debate: please contact us if you would like to contribute.