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Understanding the democratic deficit in the digital economy of local news

Grant Holder: Professor Justin Lewis

Co-applicant: Dr A Williams

Researcher: Rachel Howells

Funder: Welsh European Funding Office, Media Standards Trust

Period: October 2010 to November 2014

The two biggest issues facing journalism in Wales - and in many other parts of the UK – are:

  1. The shift from print to digital (online) news, which has had a substantial  negative impact on the economic viability of local news provision, causing cutbacks and closures of local news providers across Wales (including Neath Port Talbot). While the old (print) business model is collapsing, the quest to find a new business model for news in the digital economy has so far failed.
  2. The ‘digital divide’ in news consumption, with online news providers having limited appeal, especially to less affluent socio-economic groups. This, combined with the decline of local news, is likely to increase the democratic deficit. This is particularly the case in Wales, where devolution of political power has combined with a weakening Welsh news sector.

The aim of this project is to address these issues head on, on the basis of a case study in Neath Port Talbot, with the goal of developing a viable model of local digital news provision. As well as creating business opportunities, this project has the potential for a broader set of social benefits, based on the use of digital media to increase knowledge and understanding of local issues across Wales (and thus the strength of local democracy).

The project will thus be designed to answer two central questions:

  1. The state of the current democratic deficit in Neath Port Talbot, and the extent to which local news provision has declined.
  2. How a new digital model of local news provision, involving both the commercial and public sector and involving local people, might begin to redress this problem, as well as offering a way forward in local news provision across Wales.

Research Outputs: The principal research output from the project will be a PhD thesis produced by Rachel Howells.

'Understanding the democratic deficit in the digital economy of local news' is a Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) project