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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mitchell

Is PINF asking the right questions?

We’re adjusting our research questions, priorities and products. Joe Mitchell outlines our thinking - and wants to hear from you. 


PINF believes that everyone in the UK should benefit from public interest news that speaks to them, for them and with them. 


This statement inspires several questions: What exactly is the benefit of public interest news? Who currently benefits from it and who doesn’t, and how is this picture shifting over time? And, where it exists, how sustainable is it, and what can be done to make it more so?  


To us, these make up three priority research questions that we need to answer, or grow our understanding of, over the coming years. I’ll outline each below, along with some ideas for how we might advance the answers. I’d love your feedback on the research questions – is there a big one we’ve missed? – and on the approaches. 

  

First: What is the public value of public interest news?  


This is the theme of impact. For example, what is PIN’s impact on health outcomes, environmental outcomes or community cohesion? And, if we were to place an economic value on public interest news, what would it be? 


What we could do: 

  • The News Impact Review: a regular review and summary of existing evidence from the UK and beyond, via web/email 

  • Set up a research advisory group for PINF - which could help across all our themes 

  • An annual indie news impact survey for publishers and readers 

  • Consider how/whether we can boost the journalism research sector, alongside existing academic networks and centres 

  • More analysis of the correlations between news provision and social outcomes  

  

Second: Who benefits from this public value or social impact and who misses out?  


This is the theme of equity. This might be in geographic terms, or in terms of identity-based groups.  


Realistically, we might currently only be able to look at the equity of provision (the supply-side), such as making sure every area of the UK has PIN providers, rather than investigating the actual use or consumption of PIN, which might be a longer-term project. 


What we could do:  

  • Local News Map - maintaining and improving the existing mapping - with regular analysis reports, and perhaps extending to a Regional News Map, or looking at hyperlocal (smaller-than-local-authority-district) coverage 

  • Local News Score - use machine-reading tools to review content and measure actual not just claimed coverage, plus looking at ownership and plurality of provision, to award each local authority area a score, producing a Local News Index 

  • Inclusivity research - look at the provision of PIN to communities based on identity or language, rather than just geography 

  

Third: Is the provision of public interest news sustainable?  


This is the theme of, well, sustainability. We're looking at the providers of public interest news here, and trying to identify how sustainable they are – particularly the smaller independent providers - and what works to improve their sustainability.  This includes financial sustainability, but is not limited to that. We could see sustainability as three-fold: 


  • Financial (can a provider of public interest news break even or make a surplus),  

  • Organisational (are staff happy in their work, is the governance adequate?) and  

  • Social (is the content high quality, does it meet the needs of – and involve – the community?) 


What we could do: 

  • PIN Providers Tracker: build a database of all – or all independent - PIN providers with a light list of fields of publicly available information (such as legal status, location), and a simpler, quicker version of our annual publishing survey for non-public info (such as revenue and staffing). By tracking the whole field each year, we can better measure change over time. This could lead to an Annual State of the Sector report based on the tracker, plus a different deep-dive each year, e.g. into AI or workforce or revenue. 

  • Sustainability Audit: borrowing from a US-based journalism support organisation (LION), offer a deep audit of financial, organisational and social sustainability for a small number of PIN providers each year, producing case studies and lessons for the wider sector. Ideally, this would be combined with a grant for the auditee to work on issues identified in the audit. 

  • Revenue Radar - running experiments or pilots to inform what works to boost financial sustainability, such as match-funding, fundraising training, shared services, and reporting back to the whole sector. 


So three big themes where we’re looking for answers - and a range of routes to get them. What we can actually do will depend on fundraising efforts, as always.  


Then it’s simply a case of publicising what we find among multiple audiences: the public, policymakers, politicians, philanthropists and PIN providers themselves… simples. 


We welcome your thoughts on this draft research agenda. Perhaps you’re already working on the answers? Please get in touch via the usual channels. 


Joe Mitchell is Deputy Director at PINF.


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