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Local News Plans: Bristol

The Bristol Local News Plan meeting took place in November at Trinity Centre.

We’ve distilled the discussions into the report and description below, which was first shared with the participants themselves for feedback and input, and which is the starting point for the actual Local News Plan.  

We thank all our deeply engaged participants, who came from across the Bristol independent media community, as well as those who were unable to attend, but who gave us input in advance of the meeting. Sameer Padania facilitated a lively session, with the help of Joe Mitchell of PINF, and our Bristol steward, Eliz Mizon.

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The workshop was held at Trinity Arts in Bristol on the morning of Wednesday 23rd November 2022.  10 people attended the workshop in total.

The workshop began with introductions from Sameer Padania, Joe Mitchell and Eliz Mizon. We then invited participants to introduce themselves to each other in three small groups, and to tell each other about their earliest memories of local news. This broke the ice, and when people shared their feedback with the wider group, we heard examples of people whose childhood achievements were featured in the local paper.

Because the group was mostly made up of working journalists, we also heard about how they came to work in journalism – some through an early fascination with coverage of local newsworthy events, such as witnessing a car falling into the river, and others of work experience in the industry in their teenage years. We reflected on the role that local news media can play in terms of shared information that marks important moments in their lives, and the power of listening to and sharing people’s stories through newspaper stories.

We then worked through a series of exercises, first looking at the present state of local news in Bristol, then imagining a more positive future for local news in the area, and finally talking about what commitments were needed to realise this vision, and who should be making them, including those in the room.

The present state of local news

In this section, participants were asked to work in their three groups on three questions:

  1. What do you like about local news in Bristol?

  2. What’s not working for you?

  3. What’s missing?


Each group generated answers to these questions, which they wrote onto flipchart paper. They were then asked to select one answer to each question on a post-it note to share with the wider group.


Given that most of the participants were either working journalists/editors or working for media outlets, this was both a constraint on the diversity of perspectives in the discussion, and a useful opportunity to go deeper into journalists’ views on the issues arising in the pilot project.

What the participants liked about the current environment for local news in Bristol included the following items:

  • The variety and diversity of existing local media outlets

  • The existence of a distinct set of independent media

  • There are media at all levels of the city – from individual wards to citywide

  • The presence of two Local Democracy Reporters in the area

  • The production facilities of the major broadcasters

  • Successful local wider media sector


When participants talked about what isn’t working for them or is missing from the current provision, several themes began to emerge:

  • While Bristol has a surface diversity of independent media outlets, and seems like a ‘news oasis’, they are all struggling to grow or survive.

  • Resources are extremely stretched – even the Cable only has 5 editorial staff to cover the whole city, with little or no arts coverage

  • This also means that local independent media haven’t built a clear “offer” to market themselves across the city, and to reach new audiences

  • Although Bristol has a ‘One City’ agenda, it is much harder to launch and sustain local news covering poorer districts of the city. In wealthier areas, outlets can access more revenue (higher willingness and ability to pay) and advertising (from local businesses) than in poorer or more deprived areas – meaning that the poorer areas are unable to sustain local outlets catering to their citizens’ needs

  • Some outlets rely on press releases and SEO-driven clickbait-y content, especially in online publications reliant on volume and scale

  • There is a disconnect with the governance of the city – recent well-publicised gaffes by the mayor’s office with local journalists have caused a rift between local media and the outgoing mayor

  • There is a broader disconnect with local democracy that LDRs alone cannot fix, and publications all putting out the same LDR stories masks. (participation in the recent mayoral referendum was under 30%)

  • There is no single source of news that is shared by everyone – and participants particularly lamented the lack of a central independent source of arts and events coverage in the city (arts/culture seen as Bristol’s DNA)


The future of local news

In the next section, we asked participants to imagine a future in which local news provision has significantly improved. For this exercise, the participants were asked to work in four groups on the following questions about local news on Jan 1st, 2026:

  1. What stories are being told by local news in 2026?

  2. Whose voices are being heard in local news in 2026?

  3. How is local news in 2026 improving your life?

  4. How is local news in 2026 improving Bristol?


The three groups approached this task in different ways, but we can see some common themes in their ideas.

  • The single most important factor for all participants was the funding model – a desire to see more diverse sources of funding and revenue in the city, including local business – but they emphasised the need for absolute editorial independence from funding sources

  • Some talked about innovative ways to create a central funding pot in Bristol, by, for example, a local tax on broadband, or a small charge on local rates/council tax, or some form of public funding

  • All groups wanted to see greater equality in coverage across wealthier and poorer districts of the city – and wanted to see more engagement from news avoiders, marginalised people and poorer communities by 2026

  • Participants talked about the need to build greater trust with communities in the city by having more resources to have more on-the-ground reporters, so that media can have a face-to-face relationship with the communities they are covering and serving

  • All groups imagine a greater diversity in the stories and voices that are heard in local news, and within (and owning) the newsrooms and outlets producing local news, and a different, more engaged and less gatekeeping relationship between media and communities in the city

  • All participants talked about the engaged and active character of the city in terms of civic activism, environmentalism and other groups spoke about the role that local news can play in building community cohesion

  • All affirmed the ongoing role of local news in accountability for powerful local bodies – e.g., the council or mayor

  • Everyone noted the role that local news can play in creating and publicising businesses, arts and culture venues and events, and jobs/skills



In the final part of the morning - in a slight variation from our other convenings as it was a journalist-dominated group - we asked participants who could or should be trying to help realise their vision for the future of local news in Bristol. We also asked them what concrete steps they could take to help work towards that vision.

Participants wanted to see plural sources of funding emerge, and for this to lead to an increase in the total amount of local funding available. There were four main areas that this focused on:

  • Philanthropy and other funders and investors: this centred particularly on the Quartet Community Foundation, but also on other philanthropies, funds, investment networks and local and national government mechanisms to support funding of public interest journalism as an important part of local democracy, engagement and economy

  • Local businesses: SMEs are also experiencing serious headwinds, but have a vested interest in the health of locally-owned and -focused media, as they can provide coverage of local business and economy, and if better funded, could grow and cover more. Some larger businesses, such as Hargreaves Lansdowne, already give some money to public interest media causes (50:50 project of the BBC), but not to local media in Bristol – and others have strong locally-focused CSR programmes that could help local independent media

  • Readers/audiences: there is evidence of willingness to pay for media publications or services in Bristol, and with membership programmes and co-ownership systems, there is also evidence of strong engagement in media governance – but this is limited across the city. Some thought that appealing for legacies/bequests might be a viable additional route for funding, and to look to civil society for strong examples of successful fundraising.

  • Local civil society, arts, universities, unions, sports clubs, and other organisations: as partners, as amplifiers through for example Bristol Ideas, and as co-applicants to funders for joint projects


Three further specific questions were raised:

  • How can we make sure funding supports the emergence of NEW organisations and people under-represented in the media, which really serve their local communities?

  • Could the council provide micro-funding for training community reporters?

  • Maybe it’s about not seeing journalism as a silo when it comes to funding – a central pot that all Bristol businesses give to?


Participants were mindful that they only represented media outlets, and that a broader cross-section of stakeholders across the city was needed to widen and strengthen the discussion – and they suggested whether a follow-up meeting could be held to include those wider stakeholders, perhaps at or in partnership with UWE.

Next Steps 


The Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) would like to build on the exciting vision that emerged at the workshop. With further funding, we could bring local news innovators together with donors and investors to develop a sustainable ecosystem for local news. We could also continue the conversations that began at the workshop, to make sure local news is meeting the needs of the local community.

NewsNow generously provided the funding for this project.

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