Grass roots news should receive Government support says Carnegie UK Trust

April 29, 2014

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The Carnegie UK Trust believes that grass roots news websites should benefit from a share of the £250 million public funding support that is made available to local UK news organisations each year.
With over 70%* of people believing that their local media is the best medium for making them feel a part of their community, the Trust considers local journalism as an essential ingredient to the wellbeing of local communities.
However, whilst Government and charitable interventions into local news in the UK support local newspapers, community radio and local TV, there is no such public funding support for local news websites which perform a very similar function. Without support, geographical coverage of such sites across the UK is inconsistent and making them sustainable in the long-term remains a challenge.
Douglas White, Acting Head of Policy at Carnegie UK Trust, said: “There are more than 400** local news websites across the UK. These sites produce thousands of stories every week and play a vital role in sustaining local democracy and connecting communities. However, there is currently no media-neutral, large-scale fund available to support organisations that run independent, responsible local news websites with small pots of funding. We believe that this is a gap which should be addressed.”
Over the last six months, the Trust has been working with five local news organisations across the UK as part of its Neighbourhood News project, which was set up to help develop innovative ways of producing local news with local organisations.
The interim evaluation of the project, written by Talk About Local on behalf of the Trust, has found that many of the organisations involved have already successfully demonstrated that local journalism is a vital community activity that can help build social cohesion and scrutinise local decision making. Stories are being generated through a combination of volunteer time and pro bono input from professional journalists. One project has also surveyed local residents to find out what type of content they would like to see produced. However, the projects have also come up against some challenges in delivering local news and sustaining the rate at which it is produced.
Douglas added: “The five local news organisations we have been working with have made extremely good progress with their individual projects, generating a significant volume of news content, bringing community members together, and creating new employment and volunteering opportunities in their local area. However, they have also faced a range of challenges which have demonstrated the importance of external support being available”.
“We know that the traditional business model for local news is becoming increasingly unviable, with £400 million forecast to be lost from the UK newspaper market by the end of 2014***.We therefore need to be creative and find new ways of encouraging and supporting vital local news outlets in whatever form they take. Local news websites are a vital part of this mix and the sector needs more support so that it can flourish and grow”.
William Perrin, Founder of Talk About Local, said: “The Carnegie projects represent a good cross section of local grass roots online news. They demonstrate that a small amount of money goes a long way and that well-judged philanthropic interventions can create or bolster independent grass roots news. In our work with community news sites across the country we have long been puzzled why grant makers back few online projects and Neighbourhood News shows the potential waiting to be unlocked.”
The Trust’s Neighbourhood News project provided £50,000 to five news projects: Brixton Blog, Cybermoor, Port Talbot Magnet, WHALE Arts, and Your Harlow. Each Partner received £10,000 from the Trust to develop a new local news initiative. Talk About Local is evaluating Neighbourhood News on behalf the Trust, examining the impact of the intervention and what it might mean for the future of local news. A final evaluation report will be made available by Autumn 2014.
Read more about Neighbourhood News and the five individual projects here: http://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/changing-lives/knowledge-and-culture/neighbourhood-news