Do you want a representative body for community journalists in the UK?

By Hannah Scarbrough | 27th May 2016

A large part of our time at Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism is spent listening to community journalists and responding to need. And what we have heard is that, as a sector, community news publishers want to be formally represented.

Our vision when we launched The Centre for Community Journalism in 2013 was to help the community news sector be the best it could possibly be. Our main focus was on training and building a network – we have worked intensively with seven community news hubs in Wales and trained over 32,000 people worldwide through our free online FutureLearn course. Alongside this we provide networking opportunities and share best practice through our website and on Twitter.

As the sector evolves and grows, whilst our vision remains the same, we believe that changing the scope of what we offer could be of even greater benefit to all community journalists across the UK.

We do not operate alone in supporting the community news sector in the UK, and we recognise the valuable work that other organisations such as Talk About Local, Carnegie UK Trust and Nesta have done in funding and training community journalists on the ground.

A few weeks ago we held a meeting with representatives from some of those organisations active in the field*. We wanted to do this before opening out the question to community journalists, so that we could

  1. be clear about what resources these bodies can bring to the table; and
  2. not favour some practitioners over others.

Those suggestions are now on the table as a starting point. Our initial discussion was merely a chance to see what we can currently offer and what we would need additional funding to deliver.

We drew up a list of what we can offer now:

  • Scoping: Source funding for a scoping project around the idea of a representative body, to enable us to look at equivalent organisations in other countries (such as LION Publishers) and at representative bodies in different sectors.
  • Training: The Centre for Community Journalism provides tutorials and resources through our website and through an annual free online course with FutureLearn (next date TBC). We also partner with other providers such as NUJ Training Wales and Google News Lab to provide face-to-face training.
  • Advice service: We currently provide ad hoc advice for community journalists through email and telephone offering regular editorial, legal, technological and sales support to community journalists across the UK.
  • Advocacy: Alongside experts such as Will Perrin, we are making the voice of community journalists heard by policy makers. We have also been working closely with the BBC through their Local Journalism Working Group, to ensure that community journalists are included in plans such as the fund to pay for 150 local journalists.
  • Networking: C4CJ will launch a forum on our website this summer 2016, enabling publishers to discuss their work, including a secure space to share sensitive information (such as advertising rates).
  • Sharing best practice and promoting the sector achievements: We will continue to share your successes and thoughts on sector-wide challenges such as ad blocking and social distribution through our website and Twitter channels.
  • Research: We will build on the research carried out by Dr Andy Williams and others to continue to develop an accurate picture of the UK community news sector – from capturing demographic information to updating the Local WebList.

What we would need more funding for:

  • Collaborative advert selling: To create a network of community news publishers through which we could sell adverts to large national and supranational chains.
  • Press agency: To be able to ‘sell on’ hyperlocal content to mainstream media in a similar way to Press Association or a news wire.
  • Arbiter of funding: To bid for large grants from organisations such as the Big Lottery or Google and act as arbiters of that funding for community journalists.

The discussion from here on in relies on your input. Your thoughts and ideas will inform and shape any action we take. If we are to form a representative body it has to respond to your wants and needs.

There are, of course, inherent challenges in communicating with a sector as large and diverse as ours, and we would welcome any thoughts on how best to share our progress. In terms of governance of this sort of representative body, we would also like to hear your thoughts on how to include community journalists in further discussions and promote openness.

* To make this process entirely transparent the attendees were: Prof Richard Sambrook, Prof Ian Hargreaves, Dr Andy Williams, Emma Meese and Hannah Scarbrough of Cardiff University were joined by Will Perrin from Talk About Local, BBC’s Eileen Murphy and Matthew Barraclough and Dave Harte from Birmingham University. Representatives from Carnegie UK Trust and University of Central Lancashire were also invited to take part in this discussion. Although Nesta is no longer working in the community news sector, we have also received valuable feedback and insight from Kathryn Geels.

This post was co-authored by Emma Meese, Hannah Scarbrough and Dr Andy Williams from Cardiff University.

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