It’s long been a frustration for publishers of local news sites, as well as academics studying the delivery of local news and information in the UK, that there has been little research on that most fundamental of issues – where’s the money coming from to support the many enterprises springing up around the country?
While there have been a a few recent schemes designed to support and study a limited number of initiatives*, the independent local media (also referred to as hyperlocal) is largely operating in a free market but without access to some of the public subsidy provided to established news outlets from the big media companies.
So it’s refreshing to see this new report published by the Media Standards Trust which looks at some of those structural issues and calls for intervention, now.
It finds that:
- Innovation in local news and information is urgently needed to address the decline in local newspapers and to help support and reinvent local news and community information for the 21st century.
- Without such reinvention we risk weakening our civic communities and our local authorities becoming unaccountable.
- There is a window of opportunity for the UK government to seed, through an independently run competition at no cost to the taxpayer, a flowering of innovation in news and information and civic technology at a local level.
- The opportunity for innovation and growth will decline as non-UK technology platforms further colonise local media space.
The report’s author, Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust argues that more needs to be done to foster innovation among local news and civic technology providers.
Posting at the LSE blog, he says:
Our local print press continues to decline. In the first half of 2014 alone, local newspaper circulation dropped by an average of 13.5 per cent year-on-year. Since 2000, regional newspaper paid circulation has more than halved.
Hyperlocal websites are starting to fill the democratic gap, but slowly and intermittently. There are fewer than fifteen hyperlocal sites in Northern Ireland and fewer than thirty in Wales and Scotland (Ofcom, 2013). Less than a third of hyperlocal sites make enough money even to cover even basic costs (Barnett/Townend 2014).
The best way to change this is through a local news competition. A competition in which individuals and organisations would compete for awards of between £10,000 and £50,000 to start, grow and run the local news and civic technology of the future.
Similar competitions already exist in the US – like the Knight News Challenge. Over the first five years of the Challenge, Knight gave awards to 79 news innovation projects – a total of $26.5 million.
A UK version of such a competition could see a transformation of local news. Ten million pounds a year for five years would lead to over 2,000 award winners: 2,000 local news and civic technology projects around the UK.
* Disclosure – talk about local is the evaluation partner for one such initiative from The Carnegie Trust UK which provided funding to five hyperlocal publishers.