Tackling the democratic deficit in local news
The Centre for Community Journalism has improved the sustainability of community news by launching the first formal body to advocate on behalf of the sector, securing governmental support and delivering £300K of external funding.
Independent community news outlets play an invaluable democratic role in communities left behind by the decline of traditional newspapers.
The School of Journalism, Media and Culture’s longstanding research in this area, which included the largest content analysis to date of hyperlocal content, identified economic insecurity and a lack of training and support as the primary challenges facing local journalists.
In 2014, the Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ) was established to tackle these challenges and to act as a focus for collaborative research with sector stakeholders. To date C4CJ has attracted £300,000 of external funding from the AHRC, Welsh Government and Google.
Later in 2018, C4CJ launched the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) to advocate on behalf of the UK’s community publishers. ICNN was the first representative body for the sector and now represents more than 125 titles with a cumulative readership of over five million people across the UK.
Advocacy and impact
During 2017 and 2018 C4CJ’s Dr Andy Williams gave evidence to a year-long Senedd inquiry into news journalism in Wales. His research showed the need to provide financial support for the sector and public funding of £200,000 (over two years) was allocated to enhance the sustainability of Wales’ hyperlocal sector through the Independent Community Journalism Fund (ICJF). Subsequently, C4CJ co-authored a report on delivering the ICJF, and ICNN membership was used as a qualifying criterion to access the fund.
Feedback from recipients highlighted the importance of the fund and its real-world impact.
Free legal and digital resources
Access to a suitable web template was a barrier for many wanting to set up a digital news publication, so, in 2015 C4CJ created the world’s first free, bilingual, community journalism WordPress template.
One publisher of a hyperlocal confirmed that the web template was “one of the most significant resources we have used” and that WordPress training provided by C4CJ “upskilled our volunteers and saved us thousands of pounds”.
C4CJ also provide free legal advice for ICNN members, which has been used over one hundred times since the network was established. The Guildford Dragon said by using the service “we have saved money by not having to source costly external legal advice” and “settled legal threats before they escalated”.
A global service
C4CJ has provided training to over 38,000 individuals since 2015. For example, its online course on community journalism taught more than 32,000 learners from 131 different countries including India, Brazil, Nigeria, Australia, the United States, Russia and Spain.
Timely support during the COVID-19 crisis
Realising the negative economic impact lockdown could have on community news, C4CJ lobbied Welsh Government to release the remaining money in the Independent Community Journalism Fund. Consequently, all Welsh members of ICNN received £8,000 in emergency grant revenue funding.
One editor said “without ICNN the COVID-19 funding would not have existed, let alone been reallocated, and without it I believe Wales would have seen some independent media shrink, or even close”.
Research, recommendations and real-world impact
C4CJ and ICNN have developed and published recommendations on community journalism designed to maximise the impact of community outlets, through advocacy, representation, training, advice and resources.
This has allowed the findings of action-based research to play an integral role in ensuring both the development and sustainability of this important news sector.