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Major report urges Harlow Council to help smaller newspapers grow

News / Tue 9th Dec 2014 at 08:51am

CarnegieA NEW report from Carnegie UK Trust has recommended a package of support measures to help the UK’s emerging ‘hyperlocal’ news sector to flourish and grow.

The Trust argues that new, community-run news websites have significant potential to help fill the gaps in local media left by the closure of many local newspapers but that government, regulators and funders must take action to help this new sector if its potential is to be fulfilled.

This is reflected in Harlow where there is a burgeoning media sector represented by a collection of websites, magazines and small papers such as CM17, Everything Harlow, Roundabout Harlow and Your Harlow.Com.

In 2008, there were three printed newspapers in Harlow: The Harlow Gazette and Citizen, the Harlow Herald and the Harlow Star.

The Gazette folded in 2008, the Herald in 2010. The Harlow Star closed its Harlow office in November and has plans to operate from a desk in the Harvey Centre.

Some of the recommendations outlined in the report, ‘The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Local’, includes:

• Ofcom welcoming grassroots hyperlocal media as a positive asset in contributing to media plurality.

• The UK Government widening existing financial interventions in the local news market to include hyperlocals, for instance to permit local authorities to spend some of their statutory advertising budgets through hyperlocal news providers.

• The BBC and other local news organisations facilitating stronger relationships with hyperlocal news providers.

• The Big Lottery and other relevant funders considering the potential for establishing a new funding programme dedicated to the hyperlocal news sector.

Douglas White, Head of Advocacy at the Carnegie UK Trust, said: “With four in ten adults in the UK now using online sources for local news*, the traditional business model for delivering local news is under extreme pressure, and there are fewer journalists working in our communities even as we move towards greater devolution of power.

“However, despite digital hyperlocal news providers addressing news gaps and democratic deficits in many areas across the UK, their coverage across communities remains patchy. They are also not eligible for much of the public support currently available to UK local media.”

Over the last two years, the Trust has been working with five local news organisations across the UK as part of its Neighbourhood News project, which was set up to help develop innovative ways of producing local news with local organisations. These pioneering local news providers are making a substantial contribution to local plurality and civic voice.

Douglas added: “There are nearly 500 active hyperlocal news websites across the UK**. They fulfil the traditional function of local news providers which governments, regulators and funders support; they just deliver it differently.

“There is an opportunity for governments and funders to open up current and new financial support programmes to develop local news which hold decision-makers to account and connect our communities”.

In a recent independent evaluation of the Trust’s Neighbourhood News programme, carried out for the Trust by Talk About Local, it was found that in return for a low level of investment, grassroots community news organisations provide good value for money, focus on important local issues and help bring communities together.

William Perrin, Founder of Talk About Local, said: “The volume and quality of output produced by the sites we evaluated was remarkable given the tiny cash resources at their disposal. These sites and others like them show the way to a new future of news produced by social and commercial entrepreneurs on a human scale rather than traditional, impersonal, capital-intensive news corporations.

“Holding authority to account and binding communities together is a priceless function in a democracy – which is why these sites show such remarkable volunteer input. We hope this report gives people who want to fund such activity a route to doing so successfully. And might prompt the local media plurality debate to move on from a rather dismal management of market exit to the promotion of market entry.”

Harlow MP, Robert Halfon said: “As everything is now online, media is changing. I am glad to see that the Carnegie Trust is leading the way in recognising and promoting this.

Your Harlow is a fantastic example of what can be achieved by supporting local media, and it is really widening the debate and making news more accessible to local media. I would like to see local media supported in as many ways as possible to ensure this happens up and down the country, and will be considering the Carnegie recommendations carefully.”

The publisher of Your Harlow, Michael Casey said: “We are in-debted to the Carnegie Trust for placing their faith in us.

“The report points out that councils such as Harlow haemorrhage tens of thousands of pounds to large news organisations that have the power to lobby parliament in order to preserve the status quo.

“Councils such as Harlow should call for a meeting of all the smaller papers and websites and see how they can work together”.

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