Statement on the PM’s announcement of a review into the sustainability of local news

By Matt Abbott | 7th Feb 2018

Photo: Crown Copyright / Credit: Lee Goddard

The Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) welcomes the announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May for a review into the sustainability of the national and local press.

C4CJ (based at Cardiff University) is the UK’s main centre for supporting public interest, independent community-based journalism (through training, networking and research).

We have previously campaigned for public funding of community and hyperlocal news in a bid to revive local journalism.

Last year, we gave evidence at the National Assembly for Wales’s review into the state of local journalism in Wales. The inquiry resulted in a £200,000 fund (over two years) to support journalists seeking to set up their own businesses in community or hyperlocal news.

We concur with the PM’s statement that the decline of local journalism is indeed a threat to our democracy. Digital platforms could play a positive role, but they are currently funnelling revenue that should rightly go to content creators, which has played a significant role in damaging the business model for local journalism.

The last decade has seen newsrooms decimated, huge swathes of jobs cut, newspapers closed, and more distressingly, communities left without access to good quality local news or information about their public officials creating a serious democratic deficit.

That is why it is vital to support the emerging new sector of community-based news outlets. The independent community and hyperlocal news sector has been growing rapidly over the last two decades. In many villages, towns and cities across the UK, community newspapers have reached parity, if not overtaken their traditional rivals in terms of readership, page views and circulation. They are beginning to plug the gaps left behind as local newspapers retreat or close.

Whereas almost 200 local newspapers have closed since 2005, there are now over 400 hyperlocals across the UK, with more being set up every week. But their position is fragile. They have done so with fewer resources, less money and smaller returns.

Organisations like the C4CJ, the Community Media Association, Carnegie, the Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), NUJ Training Wales, and more recently, the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) have been providing practical and research-led support for many years.

The launch of ICNN in January, which now has over 70 members, means that many of these publications now have access to representation. The work of ICNN aims to lobby government on behalf of these publications to promote their interests, fight for better access, and fairer opportunities.

However, the long-term sustainability of these publications is still an issue, and this is what the review must consider.

Exploring access to statutory public notices, institutional recognition and accreditation is crucial in preserving the valuable work that is done by these publications. The risk to our democracy and to a free press is too great if we continue to ignore them.

The market is partially to blame for the decline of the local press, but the market has been skewed by the digital giant’s thirst for profit. It is time politicians, industry leaders and media charities came together to find a more sustainable, genuinely local solution to the crisis in journalism.

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