Archive for the ‘Port Talbot’ tag

Local news and the democratic deficit

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This post was first published on the Media Standards Trust website on 31st January 2011

In 2010 we – Media Standards Trust – started a joint project with Cardiff University’s School of Journalism looking at whether a democratic deficit was emerging due to the decline of local news.

The project won backing from KESS – the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships, funded under the European Social Fund (ESF) Convergence Programme by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO). This, combined with contributions from the Media Standards Trust and Cardiff University, enabled us to set up a fully funded a three year case study in Wales.

We chose to focus on Wales because the position of local news in Wales is already far more precarious than in most other places in the UK. Over 90% of newspapers read in Wales are published in London and contain almost no Welsh news (from Institute for Welsh Affairs research). Unlike Scotland, Wales has no real national newspaper but a series of regional and local papers. Many of these have closed in the last few years, and those that have not have shrunk in terms of editorial resources. There are areas in Wales there is one editor editing three or more local titles at once.

In parts of Wales there are now no local newspapers at all. In Port Talbot, for example, the Port Talbot Guardian closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post has a Port Talbot insert of a few pages. But otherwise there is almost no local coverage.

This is why we have chosen to study Port Talbot – to see what happens when town of 50,000+ people has almost no professional reporters left and no local news outlet.

Questions the project is trying to address include:

  • What evidence is there of a decline in local news gathering and provision?
  • If there has been a decline, where has it been focused? What ‘news’ is now not being covered that once was?
  • Is there evidence that news of significant public interest has not been reported?
  • How are people now finding out about local news?
  • Who is most affected by the lack of local news provision and how?

But the project is not simply about researching the problem. We also want to know whether the opportunities provided by digital media can address the news deficit.

So in addition to the research, we are experimenting with new digital models of local news provision, collaborating with both the commercial and public sector and closely involving local people.

The project is being led by Rachel Howells. Rachel has worked for more than ten years as a journalist, and is now one of the founding members of Local News South Wales, a co-operative of journalists based out of Port Talbot. She is doing her KESS-funded PhD on local news and the democratic deficit at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, working in collaboration with the Media Standards Trust.

Links:

Local News Port Talbot

The Kess Award (on Google Docs)

Coverage of the project on journalism.co.uk

Written by Martin Moore

February 4th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Waving and drowning – the news from Wales

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There has been rather a lot of heat, and some light, about Welsh media this week. Good. It needs it.

Dr Andy Williams lit the touch paper with an article on Open Democracy about the decline of Trinity Mirror in Wales. Williams cited the drop in circulation of Wales’ Western Mail from 94,000 in 1979 to below 30,000 in 2010. Wales’ other ‘national’ daily, the Daily Post has also fallen, from 41,000 in 2004 to below 34,000 now. Though structural problems such as the internet are partly to blame, Williams said, the declines are also the result of ‘sustained mismanagement’ by Trinity Mirror.

Alan Edmunds, editor of the Western Mail, attacked Williams in response, saying the Cardiff academic’s research was ‘full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric’. It should be noted that Edmunds did not cite any errors in Williams’ research, despite the uncompromising language. Williams has since strongly defended his article and research.

But the spat between a Cardiff academic and a Welsh newspaper editor needs to be seen in the wider context of Welsh news media. This wider context is bleak. Very bleak. Yet it normally excites almost no debate within our London –centric media.

Very few people in Wales now read a newspaper with news about Wales. The Institute for Welsh Affairs found that 1,760,000 people in Wales (nearly 90 per cent of the population) are reading papers with virtually no Welsh content. ‘No London newspaper publishes a Welsh edition’ (IWA). The combined daily circulations of the Western Mail and Daily Post are less than 65,000 copies, equivalent to one copy sold to every 27 people in Wales.

The situation in commercial broadcasting is no better. ITV, which used to produce 624 hours of programmes per year for Wales now produces 286, 208 hours of which are news (from IWA). ITV has said it intends to withdraw altogether from regional news production. Since the proposed Independently Funded News Consortia have been scrapped by the coalition government it is far from clear what, if anything, will replace ITV Wales.

Therefore Wales is precariously reliant on the BBC for much of its news. Precariously because it is not even clear that Wales is a priority for the BBC. The current BBC Strategy Review hardly mentions Wales (a little embarrassing after Anthony King’s 2008 criticisms). Moreover, even the mighty BBC cannot be relied upon to gather and publish all the news in Wales.

There are parts of Wales that could now be considered news black holes. Take Neath Port Talbot in South Wales. It has a population of 137,400 people and a decent sized council, and yet there are now no professional news organizations based out of Neath Port Talbot or focused on the area. The Port Talbot Guardian and the Neath Guardian, both Trinity Mirror newspapers, closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post, based in Swansea (owned by Northcliffe), adjusts its daily edition slightly for the Neath Port Talbot area (though most of the paper remains non-local news). There is also a weekly insert, the Neath Port Talbot Courier. The South Wales Evening Post had a total circulation, in early 2009, of 46,000. There is a free monthly paper, the Neath & Port Talbot Tribune (Tindle). The Western Mail, regarded as the national newspaper of Wales, is printed out of Cardiff (owned by Trinity Mirror). It carries occasional news from Neath Port Talbot.

The BBC dominates in television and radio news. There are some commercial radio stations in the area, including Swansea Sound and the Wave (out of Swansea) and AfanFM. These are a mixture of music and talk, though there is very limited original local news gathering (Swansea Sound and the Wave take Sky News content).

There is some evidence of nascent grassroots journalism initiatives. Local News South Wales (LNSW) has been trying to set up a workers’ co-operative for journalists, photographers and other media operatives, although this is – according to newmodeljournalism.com – ‘struggling to get off the ground’.

There is also evidence that what most people would consider public interest news is not being reported. For example, a biomass plant is currently being built in Port Talbot. The plant is of particular interest for three reasons: it will be the biggest such plant in the world; it is an environmental experiment that could have significant impact on future energy policy; and it has evoked considerable local anger and protest.

Yet there has been almost no coverage of the plant in the news. Search for ‘Biomass Plant Port Talbot’ on Google and you find fewer than 10 stories since the plant was given the go ahead in 2007 – including just two on BBC news online and 3 short pieces on Reuters, This is South Wales, and Wales Online.

Of course if it is not reported it is not news, and if it’s not news then attracts no attention, and so news provision contracts further. So a bit of heat, as well as some light, is more than a little needed in Wales right now.

Written by Martin Moore

July 22nd, 2010 at 2:45 pm

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