45 journalists walk into a room...
What happens when we bring together dozens of independent publishers for a day of networking, brainstorming and skill-sharing? PINF's Network Manager Jaldeep Katwala reflects on the exciting conversations and projects bubbling out of this year's Independent News Forum, held on 21 October.
Photos: Hani Barghouthi for the Public Interest News Foundation.
Here at PINF we’re still buzzing from the Independent News Forum that we held in Bristol over the weekend. Despite the worst the weather could throw at us in the shape of Storm Babet which disrupted many travel plans, we had independent publishers from far afield - from places like Glasgow, Berwick, Durham, Caerphilly, and Belfast travelling in. On Friday, my WhatsApp was pinging with updates on delayed and cancelled trains, of eight-hour journeys by train, then Uber from London.
We're very grateful to our gracious hosts at The Bristol Cable, with special thanks to Strategy Lead Eliz Mizon who was our tireless compère on a long and rewarding day.
Above all this was an opportunity to network, to share problems and explore solutions, to interact with the broad range of publishers in the independent news sector. There were those who were just starting on the journey of creating a new outlet, absorbing information like sponges about the pros and cons of charitable status or how to recruit and retain volunteer journalists for example.
Some spoke generously about their experiences. Rhiannon Davies, who’d just been on a study tour of the United States and Canada, shared what she learned about the vibrant local independent news sector there and the lessons we could draw on here in the United Kingdom. Juliana da Penha talked about the creation of the Scottish Beacon, an association of more than twenty independent news publishers north of the border working together to showcase the best of their journalism. Could this idea work in other places like London or Northern Ireland for example?
Our small team of four permanent staff at PINF gave updates on what we’ve been up to since the last Forum in Leeds twelve months ago. Carried on from the developing a messaging campaign which we shared with independent news publishers and that led to the idea of perhaps a dedicated day or week to raise awareness and funds for strong, local journalism. Many of the publishers at the Forum said they’ve been crying out for the toolkit we’ve developed to go along with the messaging. Watch this space for more on that!
We had a healthy discussion about artificial intelligence which was sparked off by a presentation by Madalina Ciobanu on the current situation with AI and how it impacts local journalism. An important question was asked—how can we learn from the past and use this new technology to our advantage?
Photo: Hani Barghouthi for the Public Interest News Foundation.
Networking was the main purpose of the Forum and for me that shone through in the interactions and conversations held the evening before, and the connections made throughout the day. We did also want to focus on questions and challenges that the sector faces and that really came through in the three Open Space sessions we held where independent publishers were able to raise questions that were troubling them.
What’s the secret formula for fundraising?
Is print media dead?
How can we incubate start-ups in news deserts?
How can we share knowledge across the sector?
How can independent news providers hold local government to account?
What are the pros and cons of charitable status for newsrooms?
Should we save local news or build something better?
What is civic media?
How can we recruit and train journalists?
Is there potential for all UK indies to join under one banner to leverage advertising?
What are your general election plans?
What value are you adding to your communities?
How do people deal with critical backlash to content?
No one individual has the answers to these questions, but the joy of the open space was that collectively we could “crowdthink” potential solutions. The power of the group to help one other.
Reflecting on the day, PINF’s Executive Director, Jonathan Heawood, saw three themes emerging around content, commerce and community.
CONTENT. If independent publishers aim to provide ‘civic’ or ‘co-creational’ media, then who produces the content – professional journalists or citizens or both? How do we recruit and train these contributors? Do we need a new framework for professional standards that reflects this evolving model of journalism?
COMMUNITY. What is the role of the journalist in relation to their community? Are we here simply to provide disinterested information or to work with the community to change things? Journalism can be a risky occupation in today’s polarised and mistrustful environment, so it’s important for us to be clear and transparent about our approach.
COMMERCE. It’s not easy, but there are opportunities for independent publishers to generate revenue, whether from grants and donations, subscriptions or advertising. But the independent sector needs shared mechanisms to maximise these revenue streams, whether that’s a foundation to organise charitable funding, new infrastructure to manage subscriptions, or a collective body to liaise with the advertising sector.
These three themes were at the heart of the Forum, and they will continue to occupy us over the next twelve months. At PINF we’ve already started thinking about next year’s Forum and we’re developing our plans for the year ahead. We’ve been refreshed, invigorated, and renewed.
One final thought from me. Network Manager seems like a vague, amorphous job title. The Forum reminded me that it’s really about connecting people who care for journalism, care for democracy and ultimately care for each other.
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