Archive for the ‘Wales’ 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

Does Welsh news matter?

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Is “‘Three Welsh politicians ‘raped’” a big news story? The BBC thinks so. It’s been one of its top stories all day. On its front page the BBC reports that ‘Three members of the Welsh assembly have disclosed… that they have been raped’, though none of them reported it.

And yet the BBC seems almost alone in reporting it. As yet, The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail have all chosen not even to mention it on their sites.

Perhaps because the news was released to coincide with the launch of an Amnesty / NUS campaign about violence against women, and hard-bitten newspaper hacks felt they were being bounced into the story.

But perhaps also because much of mainstream media seems to take virtually no notice of Wales or what goes on there. No national newspaper – except the News of the World (yes, really) – has a correspondent based in Wales. Neither does Sky (based in Bristol).

Last year there was almost no coverage of the Welsh Assembly elections or their aftermath. The Institute for Welsh Affairs studied the national press and found more coverage of the slaughter of Shambo, the sacred bull, than of the formation of the new Assembly goverment (report here). The Sun contained all of 13 words (and that was 13 words more than many other papers).

Does this matter? To people in Wales yes. They genuinely lack enough political information on which to make democratic choices (hell, if you’re Welsh and read the FT you’d have thought you quit smoking two months too early – the paper reported the ban started in July ’07 when it actually started in May).

But also to the rest of us. Even ignoring the lack of political understanding we now have of Wales, when a big story breaks we’re fed masses of inaccurate, misleading, cliched reporting – as happened in Bridgend.

Written by Martin Moore

July 2nd, 2008 at 11:54 am

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Is Wales the canary in the mine of news?

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It would be difficult to find a quieter way to go.

Last Friday Rhodri Morgan, Wales’ First Minister, announced that he would step down in September 2009. It was reported in the South Wales Echo, the South Wales Evening Post, the Daily Post (Liverpool) and got a brief mention on Betsan Powys’ blog (BBC Wales).

Nothing in the national press or on their websites. Nothing on Sky. Nothing on the BBC News Online (excepting Powys’ blog and a short piece about the succession). Tumbleweed.

Now, you could try to explain this absence by arguing that September 2009 is a long way away, that the announcement was partly expected (though not its timing), and that Rhodri Morgan is not the most exciting figure. And, of course, it would be daft to expect anything approaching the fanfare attached to news about Tony Blair’s corresponding announcement.

But wouldn’t you have thought it was in the public interest at least to report it? Isn’t the fact that the leader of the Welsh Assembly Government is going and that a succession battle will now begin relevant not just to Wales but to UK politics and democracy?

Were Alex Salmond to announce he was stepping down it’s hard to imagine the Scottish press ignoring it, or indeed the BBC.

And this isn’t the only piece of Welsh political news that has gone AWOL. Last summer Morgan was hospitalized. Few outlets reported it. Immediately before that the successive attempts by different parties to form a coalition government were given scant coverage by the media.

Indeed there is increasing evidence to suggest that Wales is becoming a ‘news blackspot’. That it is experiencing the spiral of decline in news reporting that people keep saying is threatened elsewhere.

The process goes something like this. Commercial organisations gradually cut back on their editorial commitment. The less an area is reported the less people assume there is to report. More reporters are pulled out. Finally only the BBC and local papers cover the region – and the BBC ghetto-izes much of its reporting into online pockets and blogs. At this point there’s a good chance that, even if something happens that is important/newsworthy, it will go unreported or so under-reported that the vast majority of people will completely miss it.

Is Wales the first of many? Other areas now seem to be following the same path. Perhaps, if we think it’s important that political news continues to get reported, we should look at what’s happened in Wales and work out if we can do anything to reverse / stop it.

Written by Martin Moore

February 13th, 2008 at 3:17 pm

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Impartiality – from whose perspective?

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National newspapers yesterday reported that the BBC Trust is going to conduct a review into the impartiality of BBC coverage of the four nations. Most papers did it with a very straight bat. ‘BBC to examine post-devolution news coverage’ was the Guardian’s take – and headlines in other UK papers were similar.

But take a look at newspapers in the nations and you get rather a different story. ‘Is Wales losing out to a BBC pro-England news bias?’ the Western Mail asked on Saturday, and followed this with a story yesterday that focused on the idea that Wales was being ignored by the BBC, and that this was the primary motivation for the review. In the article former Welsh secretary Ron Davies is quoted as saying “I think the quality of BBC regional broadcasting is very good but unfortunately quantity is very, very limited”.

And this is surely the problem with the whole review. How exactly will the BBC Trust (or in this case Cardiff School of Journalism which is carrying out the study) judge partiality or impartiality?

Are they planning to do a simple geographic story count? Presumbably not, since this would bring editorial values into question. Or are they going to look at the approach to political stories – particularly during the election in Scotland, for example? If so, surely the Scottish perception of impartial coverage of the election is going to be quite different from the English.

It is very true to say that Wales is starved of news, but an awful lot of that is not the fault of the BBC. There are big ‘news blackspots’ in Wales where commercial news organisations have decided it is not profitable to send reporters. This is market failure but is it the job of the BBC to fill the gap? And, if it does, will this not be favouring Welsh news to the detriment of other areas of the country?

Ah, the perils of judging impartiality.

Written by Martin Moore

November 20th, 2007 at 3:56 pm

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