Archive for the ‘local newspapers’ tag

Whatever local news funding model you support, if we don't know what's out there, we won't know what's working

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Arguments are starting to solidify. Camps are starting to coalesce. Policies are being set.

Now that many people have realised the seriousness of the crisis in local journalism in this country, we are – finally – moving briskly into the ‘what can we do about it?’ phase.

And already there are three camps forming:

1. The ‘Free the Corporations’ camp, as represented mostly by the senior executives at news corporations and by the recently created ‘Local Media Alliance’ – set up to make sure the government is aware of the desperate need to liberalise competition and ownership rules (though the Alliance stresses it is not a lobbying group). This week the F-the-C camp gained a considerable filip when the Conservatives came out in support of such liberalization and the CMS Select Committee announced it would look into ‘the desirability of changes to the regulatory framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media ownership and merger regulations’.

2. The ‘Don’t Free the Corporations Camp’ as represented by the NUJ, 90 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion, and assorted others. Their argument is that deregulation would simply allow the Corporations to continue what they have been doing for the last few years, i.e. reduce editorial resources, make more journalists redundant, and centralise editorial and production. It’s not clear exactly what this camp wants as an alternative (the NUJ has called for politicians to come up with ‘big ideas’), though some are starting to argue for government subsidies. Roy Greenslade, for example, has proposed the State commit funds to a central pot which can then be distributed by a semi-independent body (similar in some ways to OFCOM’s ‘Public Service Publisher’ idea, dropped back in 2007). But the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport has, for the time being, rejected the possibility of subsidies.

3. The ‘Survival of the Fittest’ camp, as represented mostly by people like Clay Shirky and Jeff Jarvis. They take the Darwinian evolution line – experiment and experiment then let the free market decide. This approach doesn’t necessarily exclude future public or private subsidies for news, but argues strongly against government support for ‘old industries’.

Needless to say the three camps are not necessarily mutually exclusive (though (2) and (3) would probably have a hard time agreeing).

Given the urgency of the situation it seems highly likely that this government and/or its successor will liberalize to some extent. And with or without liberalization, number (3) will necessarily happen by default – some newspapers will die, and some news organisations probably will too.

Which leaves (2), and this is where we really do need some more thinking. One of the most interesting ideas so far is Matthew Taylor‘s suggestion building on Martin Bright’s plan for a ‘New Deal for the Mind’. Taylor has proposed providing small scale start-up funds, of around £30,000 each, for hundreds, if not thousands of new journalism ventures. This way you not only take advantage of the low start up costs of the net, but you release enormous amounts of creativity at relatively little cost (everything’s relative, of course).

But if this idea, or others like it, are going to happen, we need to know more about what is and isn’t working now. We need to explore new, small scale models in this country and abroad. We need to do some research, and fast.

Written by Martin Moore

March 27th, 2009 at 2:58 pm