A support network for news providers: Independent News Forum series (4/5)
In the fourth of a series of posts on ideas coming out of the Independent News Forum, Joe Mitchell writes up notes from a discussion about a support network for independent news providers.
Last month, PINF and partners hosted the Independent News Forum. Out of that gathering of news providers and supporting organisations came several ideas for collaborative projects to benefit the independent news sector.
This blogpost describes the work of the group that developed ideas around a distributed effort to provide a support network for the sector. This description is our best understanding of the group’s discussion – not necessarily PINF’s view. There’s more that can be done to develop the idea: if you’re interested, join the call at the link of the end of this post.
What are the things we’re looking for from a network?
The group working on this topic suggested a range of things that news publishers would want from a support network. These were:
The opportunity to share experiences and find common ground through them;
The creation of problem-solving spaces and problem-solving techniques (for example, on making freedom of information requests);
The ability to ask someone for advice (it was noted that the quickest route for this would be via phone, perhaps suggesting an advice phone-tree);
Access to peer-to-peer education, teaching and training opportunities (rather than journalism skills, which are hopefully already strong, these would be around administration and backoffice - dealing with payments, invoices or tech - one example given was ‘using Google Ad Sense’)
How might it work
The group discussed the idea of a distributed effort, so there would be no single organisation holding the responsibility, but rather a core support group, making sure support exists for a periphery of organisations who wish to use it.
The support network could make use of a time-banking system, where people can give time to others and receive time themselves. Relatedly, there could be a series of masterclasses to share pockets of expertise within the group. This would all be on a peer-to-peer basis and could potentially be managed by shared spreadsheets of who knows what. Provision of information resources could be done similarly.
The group also noted the value of ‘soft support’, such as the opportunity to speak to someone confidentially, whether for professional or emotional support, given that much of the sector might work on their own. There could also be social events and in-person meetups, perhaps best done on a regional basis to account for the costs of travel.
The group also considered ways that such support might not work or might not be sufficient. One area is in professional support in areas like accountancy, law and ad sales, where external advice might be required. Other risks to a support network include there being too much demand on individuals’ time or a lack of resources to cover costs. There might be issues with reliability or quality, and there might be some pain in a kind of phone-tree setup.
What’s needed next?
The group identified requirements for bringing such a support network to life:
A desire to care for each other;
Funding for participation in the network, which might help build capacity or time for the network members to participate;
A fundraiser role to help with the costs of the network, but also to cover expenses for members to attend events, trainings and so on;
Access to external professional services, such as in areas of finance and law;
A motivational driver to bring people along (the phrase ‘herding cats’ may have been used here) and to manage events, time-banking and resources.
The group estimated that the cost of this all might require something in the region of £50-100k per year and could be led at first by a joint effort between the infrastructure organisations.
Join the call
The next and final post in the series, on community engagement in news, will be published next week.