We do need to have a conversation about this. One way or another, we all need to think about how we want our news landscape to look and how best it can serve us – and decide how we’re going to pay for it.
Today I managed to catch a link from Rae Howells to a piece by Dave Toomer, chronicling the latest death of a local newspaper – namely the Oldham Evening Chronicle – and how the time for action was now.
‘We need an action plan to turn around this situation, rather than simply shrugging our shoulders and saying “It’s sad but the paper wasn’t a viable business…”
Not whilst Facebook and Google hoovered up every last ad dollar…
‘We urgently need a public inquiry into the state of local news with a view to tackling the “duopoly” [Facebook and Google] and coming up with new business models, which in my view has to include the use of public money.”
In fairness to Rae, she is one of the few people in the country who has even the first kernel of a plan, one she laid out in a Twitter thread the other week. News hubs.
Kicking off, potentially, out of her old fastness in Wales – Port Talbot.
One of the recommendations to come out of yesterday’s @SeneddCWLC report on News Journalism in Wales was News Hubs. I’m credited with the idea, so I thought I should clarify a few things about what I meant by News Hubs and say why I think they could be a solution for Wales…
The start of that conversation can be found here and it is well worth a read.
Because it is the start of a plan. And for that alone, Rae deserves much credit.
And whilst the Cairncross Review might start to address some of the issues that are currently taxing the minds of both Dave and Rae, so I agree with both of them – that the time for something concrete is fast approaching. The days of hand-wringing are coming to a close.
What is to follow the Oldham Evening Chron if not another news ‘black hole’? The effects of which Rae explored in her much-quoted PhD thesis on the news vacuum that engulfed Port Talbot once Trinity Mirror pulled the last remaining weekly newspaper out of the town in 2010.
To my mind, the strongest analogy remains with beer. And the rise and rise of the local craft brewers.
That there remains a strong appetite for news with a local and authentic flavor – the $64m question is who pays? Does it come out of an already strained public purse and if so, who qualifies? What is an accredited news source if its not one of the legacy players be it Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press or Newsquest?
Craft brewers thrive when they think like a network – when they act collaboratively.
They are also good at sharing.
They share kit; there is a commonality to their localized offerings in terms of the pipes and the pumps through which the beer is served.
They don’t all go their own way; do their own thing – the ‘content’ may differ, but the means to that end is common to them all.
And this is why I think Addiply can play a part in Rae’s vision for a pan-national editorial solution for Wales. Because commercially there has to be an organizing principle that can enable not only local SMEs to be reunited with a local audience just in an online and not a print setting, but also can empower the Welsh Government to distribute advertising revenue more equitably and easily across a nascent network of news hubs.
You join the dots with an ad network, basically.
Dots that could be based out of a network of co-working spaces as offered by, say, IndyCube.
By working in such collaborative environments, the local news hub reporter would have access to a steady flow of story leads – as well as a potential supply of local advertisers, sat there in their communal office space.
The point is to build on Rae’s initial jottings and start to imagine a new reality. Both in the physical location you would place individual news hubs so as to be at the heart of their local communities as well as the commercial model you could weave around a local-facing network via a revenue generating tool such as Addiply.
It is all possible, it just has to start somewhere….