Newsquest funding is shocking but not surprising

By Emma Meese | 10th Mar 2017

Hearing that the Welsh Government gave £341,000 to Newsquest to help secure jobs at its Welsh-based subbing hub is shocking but not surprising.

There is a myth that we need to continue to support and prop up traditional print media in order to save local journalism from certain death. Whilst continued support is important, what is even more important is that hundreds of other deserving news publishers are no longer ignored.

The BBC reported  the company was awarded £245,808 in 2015 to secure 50 jobs and safeguard a further 15 positions in Newport. This is in addition to the £95,226 support it received under the Skills Growth Wales programme in 2013/14.

The Welsh Government has not looked at the bigger picture here. Giving money to a single news provider, which has continued its steady flow of job cuts for a number of years, was never going to be the solution to saving jobs in journalism. However, sharing a slice of the pie among many smaller independent publishers would be of far greater democratic and economic benefit to tax payers across Wales.

It is time for Governments to stop thinking in terms of ‘newspapers’ and start thinking in terms of ‘news publishers’. This is as crucial when deciding who can publish public notices as it is when giving out funding. It’s time to balance the scales and ensure that all news publishers are given the same opportunities to grow and flourish.

We live in a digital era and news providers no longer look the same. The media ecology has expanded far beyond local news simply being provided via a local newspaper.

The growing hyperlocal and community news sector thrives in various guises across the UK. Many are plugging the gap left behind by traditional print media, which have either diminished in communities or left altogether.

The smaller news publications may not all look the same, but they have one thing in common – they play an increasingly important role in addressing the democratic deficit and supporting the information needs of communities. These individuals choose to suffer long council meetings and monotonous briefings in order to scrutinise those representing them and provide civic value.

Just look at the amazing work they do with only one or two members of staff, and imagine the impact they could have as a team of three or four. A relatively small amount of funding can go a long way, in the right hands.

Local news needs reporters who are embedded in the communities they serve, not filing remotely from the other end of the country. Geographic proximity delivers nuance, accountability, and better journalism. It helps build trust between journalism and local people. Something that is needed now more than ever.

Providing funding for one organisation to centralise its subbing service hundreds of miles away from the communities they seek to serve will never help local journalism thrive.

It’s time to start looking at the big picture and provide funding to those who really can make a difference: hyperlocal and community news publishers.

Instead of ignoring the individual contributions of these relatively smaller publishers, governments and public bodies should start to realise the potential of the sector as a whole and its capacity to affect positive change in communities.

Using public money to prop up Newsquest was shortsighted.

The same money shared between several grassroots publications across Wales could have had a much bigger impact and genuinely helped revive journalism at the local level.

There are dozens of new-media publishers across Wales who could benefit from public investment. Newsquest is by no means one of these. With profits reaching nearly £70m, the question is not simply why did they apply for government funding. The question is why did the Welsh Government give it to them.

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