Local News Plans: Manchester
The Manchester Local News Plan meeting took place in November at Holyoake House. 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 our local partner, Open Data Manchester, and Shanice Blair in particular, for bringing together such a diverse and engaged group from across Manchester’s civil society, funding, local government, and media communities. Jonathan Heawood facilitated the session, with input from project lead Sameer Padania and PINF’s Campaigns Manager, Hani Barghouthi.
The people of Manchester are looking for a rebirth of the proud tradition of local news in the area. They are grateful for the emerging independent publications in the area but are concerned that legacy newspapers only have a thin ‘veneer’ of local news. They want to see more ‘people-based’ stories, from ‘local journalists doing local news.’ They would like local news to highlight solutions as well as challenges, and to contribute towards a sense of belonging and community wealth building in the area. They believe that local people, foundations and advertisers can all contribute to the cost of funding truly local news, and some think that the government should help subsidise local news as a public good.
The workshop was held at Holyoake House on the afternoon of Monday 14 November 2022. 13 people attended the workshop.
The workshop began with an introduction from Jonathan Heawood, who invited participants to introduce themselves to each other in pairs, and to tell each other about their earliest memories of local news. Each pair shared some of their memories with the whole group.
We then worked through a series of exercises, first looking at the present state of local news in Manchester, then imagining a positive future for local news in the area, and finally making commitments towards this vision.4
The present state of local news
In this section, participants were asked to work in small groups on three questions:
What do you like about local news in your area?
What’s not working for you?
Each group generated answers to these questions and were then asked to write one answer on a post-it note.
Participants liked some of the new independent publications in Manchester, such as The Mill, which they described as ‘relatable’ and ‘useful’. Conversely, participants described the Manchester Evening News, the leading legacy newspaper for the region, as having only a ‘veneer’ of local news, with a lack of truly local and hyperlocal coverage.
Participants wanted to see print versions of independent titles, and they were concerned about the lack of funding models for quality local news.
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 groups on the following questions about local news in 2027:
What stories are being told by local news in 2027?
Whose voices are being heard in local news in 2027?
How is local news in 2027 improving your life?
How is local news in 2027 improving Manchester?
Some themes emerged strongly across the groups.
All groups wanted to see local news that was ‘driven by people’, with more space for ‘local individuals’, ‘diverse voices’ and ‘the unheard’.
All groups wanted to see ‘a locally relevant source of information’, with ‘local journalists doing local news’, so that ‘everybody has the information they need to make decisions relevant to their lives.’
All groups saw the benefit in local news that would build a ‘sense of belonging’, ‘connection’ and ‘understanding’ among local residents.
Most groups wanted to see more emphasis on solutions journalism and ‘good news’ or at least a ‘balance’ of good and bad news in the overall mix.
Most groups wanted to hear more about community activism and political organising in their area.
Most groups saw the benefit in local news that would contribute to ‘community wealth building’ by supporting local businesses.
In the penultimate session, we led an open discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of different formats and funding models for local news. The following themes emerged from this session.
Participants had divided views about advertising as a funding model for local news, with some concerned that advertising can get ‘mixed in with the editorial, making it hard to discern local news’, but others arguing that it’s ‘hard to break the tie between journalism and business.’
Participants noted that ‘technology has both disrupted and democratised journalism’, helping to increase access to information whilst also creating echo chambers.
Some participants said that ‘journalism should be recognised as a public good, and therefore funded by taxes.’
Some participants said that ‘if everybody paid a little bit’ that would sort out the funding for local news.
Participants also considered the role of philanthropy, and talked about the role of non-traditional foundations, which aim to support community wealth building.
In the final part of the morning, we asked participants what they could do to advance their vision for the future of local news in their area. We heard commitments from funding organisations to consider funding work in this area, from journalists to think more deeply about the different ways in which people want to consume news and information, and from others to find out what local news is out there, and ‘engage and share’.
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.