Monday, 6 April 2009

Exclusive: NUJ ideas for future of local media to 'fill the news gap' left by cuts and closures

Here are some of the ideas and proposals discussed by the NUJ Local Media Commission which met last week to discuss the future and new business models at a time of job cuts and closures across the regional media.
They are not recommendations but ideas put forward by a panel, which included journalists with national and regional newspaper experience. Further meetings are planned

Most of the discussion was about bringing together a coalition of interested parties – including government – to fund and run community-based local media.
There was also talk about conditions that should be placed on the Big Five regional publishers(Guardian Media, Johnston, Newsquest, Northcliffe, Trinity Mirror) in return for any state bail out.
There were discussions about ways of raising revenue to pay for content.
It was understood that union would continue to fight for existing jobs while also exploring new models for regional journalism.

New Community Media
News gaps were identified – primarily in areas where existing media companies had closed their offices. "Filling the News Gap" – was taken up as a slogan.
The current campaign for local television run by Community Media was suggested as a possible model.
New community media should be not-for-profit or accept a small profit.
Setting up a Micawber Trust would make the point.
There could be a cap on profits.
A community-based professional alternative to the Big Five.
Public money could be justified to Fill the News Gap – and it would be best to start the programme in places where the Big Five have pulled out to avoid accusations of unfair competition.
The Welsh Assembly has assigned money to expand Welsh language journalism.
English regions could ask for the same.
If cross-media regulation relaxed could help community media to do papers, radio, internet, TV, as part of an integrated venture.
Local Media Trusts could be set up
Or Media Enterprise Board – an old-Labour style funding body to distribute public money to new ventures.
Could be seed funding or matched funding.
New community media companies would be required to find their own funding from councils, trusts, rich benefactors, family businesses, universities etc to match/enhance government funds.
New community media could take on some council funds and do the stories about council services that now appear in council publications, as wells as scrutinising.
Like Kent TV – funded but county council but run by commercial company with news supplied by local papers.
New companies would need to sign-up to old ITV-style contracts guaranteeing local content, news, and public service journalism.
Local people could be trained by professionals to help.
Volunteers could do jobs like sports league tables, which don’t need a journalist.
Media Enterprise Board – or whatever it’s called – could also fund specialist news services – like defence, health, education etc.
The new media would do day-to-day monitoring of authorities and investigations.
There could be an ombudsman to monitor quality, take on role of PCC, and distribute best practice.
Perhaps all media should be regulated by Ofcom as it is all digital now – not popular around the table.
In Scotland the NUJ has been campaigning for an Independent Media Commission.
New community media may have to get used to thinking like the voluntary sector not the private sector. More regulation.
Community radio is a possible model. There are 200 stations. Some have been going for nearly 20 years.
All have different funding models but have to raise money before applying for licences. By law can only get fifty percent of income from advertising or on air sponsorship.
Also get grants from Europe, councils, regional development agencies. Collect donations.
Bradford has successful community station – employs five people.
Some run entirely by volunteers.
The NUJ could facilitate a pilot project with redundant members.
Barrow has four monthly community papers run by local people with a journalist from the local paper (not a Big Five company). This gives them access to expertise and the printing press.
Oxford NUJ branch has for some time been working with a collection of local stakeholders – people who run campaigns etc. Maybe they could form the basis of new community media partnerships.
If not who will take the initiative to start these companies?
Should we be waiting for new legislation/framework – or should we be trying to encourage start-ups now?

Conditions on Big Five
They have already enjoyed taxbreaks, the VAT exemption, grants to build in enterprise zones etc – so they should not pretend to be squeamish about state aid.
We need to remind people of the purpose of the monopolies rules – to ensure fairness. The monopolies have already destroyed regional newspapers and ITV.
We should lobby for more regulation to ensure a fit-and-proper test and accountability to the community during sales and transfers.
Stop de-skilling journalism.
Pay staff a decent wage.
Pay for training
Employ diverse workforce
Consult more with workers
Make them protect archives and digitalise them – this shows the historical value of local papers.
Stop them from competing aggressively and unfairly against new (possibly state-supported) community start-ups.
Give community papers access to their presses.
Conditions must be enforceable.

Sources of Revenue
Old fashioned advertising and sales.
Geo-targeting of ads on web is a helpful new development.
Make Google and other news aggregators pay for content.
Google could pay for each click through to a news story – in the way that advertisers pay them for clicks.
The Huffington Post website has launched a trust for investigative journalism.
Trusts and foundations are new ways of funding journalism in the USA.
Fund through subsidiary businesses – like the Guardian does.
The subsidiary businesses wouldn’t have to be media – like the old Reed International – a paint to papers conglomerate.
Public money. State commission like in Holland.
Local rich people who want the status – like football club chairmen.
Tax breaks for buying media as in USA and France.
Tax breaks as offered by Harriet Harman to media companies.
New Deal of the Mind – expanded to include journalism.
Council grants – like Kent TV with news and arms length control.
University media departments could be involved providing equipment and labour.
Regional prizes for innovative media from government or councils.
Lottery funding.
Levies on ISPs or phone companies who distribute news as part of their packages without paying for it.
Levy to go to community media funding body.
Make ISPs and phone companies provide free access to community news site as part of their packages.
Joseph Rowntree Trust – funding for research.
Regional development agencies.
European Union has a community media fund.
Government loans at preferential rates for start-ups.

Work to do
Quantify the value of local media to a community – possibly to put in to Digital Britain as a submission - in terms of direct value to the local economy.
Value to advertisers.
American research suggests that places with a vibrant and campaigning local media receive more government cash.
Also quantify the social value of local media.
Company financial reports to be analysed in detail so everyone can instantly rebut the Big Five claims of poverty.
Prepare paper on subsidies and regulations operated around the world particularly Europe. For example subsidised newsprint in Scandinavia, fixed prices in Italy, guaranteed distribution in France.
Prepare paper on state aid already available to new business start-ups. Regional grants etc.
Start pulling together local stakeholder groups.

1 comment:

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