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ONE SECTOR, ONE VOICE: a representative network for the community news sector

By Matt Abbott | 8th Dec 2016

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Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) was set up in 2013 with one goal in mind: to encourage and promote the dissemination of quality news and to help create more jobs in journalism at the hyperlocal level.

It’s been a very interesting and eye-opening four years and we’ve learned a lot. The sector is as diverse as it is disparate. And over the last half decade it’s only grown more so – there are now more than 400 independent publications across the UK.

However, there is currently no strength in these numbers. Many long-standing problems persist; namely a lack of sustainable revenue streams, accreditation, legal support and advocacy.

This is why the C4CJ decided to reach out to see if we could provide a formal framework to represent the sector in the belief that changing the scope of what we currently offer could be of even greater benefit to all community news publishers.

The sector clearly needs a voice to unite it – you have told us that – and that’s why we are formally announcing our plans to set up a representative network.

Throughout a series of public consultations, both here in Cardiff, and in London, Wrexham and Edinburgh (with one more to be held in the North West in the New Year), we have received overwhelming support.

Building on the valuable work already done by Talk About Local, Carnegie UK Trust and Nesta, along with the Hyperlocal Alliance and other organisations in the sector, we believe the time is right to create a network to represent the best interests of its members.

Discussions and plans so far have identified the need for a representative body, however time is of the essence, and we feel action needs to be taken now. The sooner the sector has a unified voice, the better.

Creating a network of publications and like-minded individuals with an interest in the sector will be step one of this process.

The Network

So what is a representative network, and what do we hope we can achieve by setting one up?

While the Network will not be legally constituted it will, with the permission of its participants, make representations on its behalf to governments, funders, businesses and other organisations.

We believe establishing this network is vital for fighting for opportunities and fair treatment for community news publishers, and have identified areas of concern which we feel we could be instrumental in helping to unify the sector.

We have set out a list of functions below, some of which we already do, others that we will adopt.

  • Lobbying and advocacy
  • Training and networking
  • Online discussion forum (to be launched in the New Year)

We don’t think being part of the Network should cost anything – we aim to run a service which is free at the point of access.

Neither do we think the Network should cater to certain publications over others. While the sector is diverse, with many differing levels of organisations, from successful businesses with overheads to die-hard non-profits, we want a network that is inclusive as possible to connect the whole sector. There will be no tiered membership scheme.

Our decision to move quickly in establishing the Network has been steered by the urgency with which we need to feedback to the BBC regarding their Local Democracy Reporter Scheme.

The scheme set out to provide 150 BBC-funded reporters to news-poor areas, and make the content available to third party local news publishers.

As a direct result of our involvement in this process, and following months and months of negotiations, the BBC criteria to both apply for a reporter and receive BBC content via the NewsBank is now more accessible to this sector.

However, our work in this regard has not been as official representatives of the sector, and as a result, has had its limitations.

Now, we feel that the time is essential to speak as one sector, one voice.

Following on from this first step, the C4CJ aim to constitute a formal representative body – one that will have a more formal structure, direction and governance.

Fundamentally a representative body needs to be accountable to its members. Although we envision that the representative body would be administered day-to-day by members of the C4CJ team, its work would be led by a board of members who will meet regularly to decide on policy and plans.

If you want to get involved in this process, of if you just want some more information on how the Network can help you, please email Matt in Communications at abbottm2@cardiff.ac.uk.

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