New report calls on Government to support local news

December 8, 2014

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A new report from Carnegie UK Trust has recommended a package of support measures to help the UK’s emerging ‘hyperlocal’ news sector to flourish and grow.

The Trust argues that new, community-run news websites have significant potential to help fill the gaps in local media left by the closure of many local newspapers but that government, regulators and funders must take action to help this new sector if its potential is to be fulfilled.

Some of the recommendations outlined in the report, ‘The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Local’, includes:
• Ofcom welcoming grassroots hyperlocal media as a positive asset in contributing to media plurality.
• The UK Government widening existing financial interventions in the local news market to include hyperlocals, for instance to permit local authorities to spend some of their statutory advertising budgets through hyperlocal news providers.
• The BBC and other local news organisations facilitating stronger relationships with hyperlocal news providers.
• The Big Lottery and other relevant funders considering the potential for establishing a new funding programme dedicated to the hyperlocal news sector.

Douglas White, Head of Advocacy at the Carnegie UK Trust, said: “With four in ten adults in the UK now using online sources for local news*, the traditional business model for delivering local news is under extreme pressure, and there are fewer journalists working in our communities even as we move towards greater devolution of power.

“However, despite digital hyperlocal news providers addressing news gaps and democratic deficits in many areas across the UK, their coverage across communities remains patchy. They are also not eligible for much of the public support currently available to UK local media.”

Over the last two years, 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. These pioneering local news providers are making a substantial contribution to local plurality and civic voice.

Douglas added: “There are nearly 500 active hyperlocal news websites across the UK**. They fulfil the traditional function of local news providers which governments, regulators and funders support; they just deliver it differently.

“There is an opportunity for governments and funders to open up current and new financial support programmes to develop local news which hold decision-makers to account and connect our communities”.

In a recent independent evaluation of the Trust’s Neighbourhood News programme, carried out for the Trust by Talk About Local, it was found that in return for a low level of investment, grassroots community news organisations provide good value for money, focus on important local issues and help bring communities together.

William Perrin, Founder of Talk About Local, said: “The volume and quality of output produced by the sites we evaluated was remarkable given the tiny cash resources at their disposal. These sites and others like them show the way to a new future of news produced by social and commercial entrepreneurs on a human scale rather than traditional, impersonal, capital-intensive news corporations.

“Holding authority to account and binding communities together is a priceless function in a democracy – which is why these sites show such remarkable volunteer input.  We hope this report gives people who want to fund such activity a route to doing so successfully. And might prompt the local media plurality debate to move on from a rather dismal management of market exit to the promotion of market entry.”

The full Neighbourhood News report can be downloaded from the Carnegie UK Trust website here.