Joe Mitchell joins PINF as Programmes Manager
Hello, I’m Joe Mitchell. I’m delighted to join the Public Interest News Foundation as Programmes Manager.
I’ve long had an interest in news media — both caught up in that romantic vision of the fourth estate holding the powerful to account (thanks to All The President's Men, Spotlight et al) — and by the effects of digital tech and social media on the space. I still miss the Media Monkey column in the Guardian, and my favourite fictional newspaper is ‘The Gammy Bird’ in Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News.
More broadly, I’ve joined PINF because I think that a thriving public interest news ecosystem is a vital part of a healthy democracy, something I’ve been working on for years.
I helped formalise and grow Democracy Club, which today provides the public with information on elections, candidates, polling locations and results. We knew people searched online for that information, so we filled that gap using crowdsourcing, partnerships with tech giants and UK media companies, and strong support from public institutions like The Electoral Commission and local government. Tens of millions of people have directly or indirectly used Democracy Club’s work.
Since leaving Democracy Club, I’ve spent the last year looking at organising the broader democracy space in the UK: where are the threats to democracy, who’s doing what to remedy them, who’s doing the innovation, how do we measure whether any of this works?
An important chunk of that democracy space — alongside the reformers, the campaigners, the get-out-the-voters, the citizenship teachers — are the news journalists and publishers. And at a local level particularly, alarm bells have been ringing for a while: from 2007 to 2017, the UK lost 300 local newspapers and 6,000 (or a quarter) of its full-time frontline journalists. As a result, vital information is not getting out there, and people’s voices are not being heard.
So there’s work to be done.
I’m a proud co-owner of the Bristol Cable, which has done some great work to boost public interest news in Bristol, while involving residents in its newsgathering and agenda setting, and the Cable has worked to bring new, more diverse voices into its news reporting.
I’m also excited about new approaches to public interest news outside of the traditional newspaper model. My first ‘proper’ job was on the graduate scheme of the government communications body, the Central Office of Information (COI). It taught me a lot about how to reach people. If our focus as a charity is public benefit, then we need to be where the public are, ensuring that public interest news is reaching them. If that’s on TikTok or via podcasts or YouTube, then we need to be there, testing what works.
Since joining PINF, I’ve been putting together a reading list for myself as I’ve been speaking to a range of people across the field. So far, the list includes:
Nesta’s Future News Pilot Fund, End of Programme Report
Reuters Institute’s Trust in News
Media Impact Funders’ Decoding Media Impact
I’d love to hear from you — if you have suggestions for my reading list, or if you have any other thoughts on public interest news and how to support the independent news sector — please get in touch! Tweet me at @j0e_m or email joe at firstname.lastname@example.org