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On news and communities: Notes from PINF’s Zoom call

The fourth in the series of Zoom conversations on the ideas coming out of the Independent News Forum was held in February, with participants discussing news and community engagement. Joe Mitchell, PINF’s head of impact, writes up the notes and next steps from the call.

Previously, on PINF’s blog:

The issue

The group spoke of the failure of the commercial news industry to adequately, accurately and fairly represent communities. It was argued that the collapse of local journalism, in particular, has risked leaving communities with no locally based reporters. In turn, that can mean that communities only experience journalism when a crisis has occurred locally and that experience is likely to feel extractive. There are stories that, for the good of the community, need telling, and that the community wants telling, that are going unreported.

A better approach

The conversation moved on to new and innovative content, delivery, editorial and ownership models that are more community-led.

One newsroom was trying to create a ‘sliding scale of citizenship journalism’ with opportunities for everyone to engage, from those who approach the publisher with a story, to those who might not yet realise they have a story to tell. Another discussed the importance a more mixed variety of content. Poetry and photography, in particular, were thought to help encourage community participation more than simply text-based stories.

Again on content, there was an idea about shifting the mission of a newsroom from ‘looking for news’ to ‘looking for stories’ – the latter being the richer content that a community wants to see and is more likely to benefit from.

Several publishers were running workshops to encourage and enable communities to tell their own stories through the mediums they wanted to use (e.g. a youth group using filmmaking) - and wondered if these were more typically fundable from grant makers who look to support community programmes.

The group included several publishers who had found value in making use of physical space to enable face-to-face conversations and collaborative working. This, they felt, was more likely to build trust.

The example of Greater Govanhill serves as inspiration: their recently opened community newsroom may become self-funding through offering co-working/desk space, and has already enabled new volunteers to come forward and new weekly events to be held. The only downside is the now almost unending list of possibilities.

Other publishers had not developed their own physical spaces, but recognised the value in making use of or at least being present in existing community spaces. Colocation might be particularly valuable in more deprived areas, where levels of trust in journalism may be lower. Paying attention to access, safety, and offering other virtual access options, all matter.

There was a suggestion that ‘success follows if outlets put the community first’. Instead of only being in the community when the newsroom needs something, the newsroom needs to show up regularly, be present, and be helpful regardless of the issue.

The group discussed engaging younger people – perhaps running specific targeted events with them and letting those people set the agenda and process for those events. Again, being in the right community spaces can matter.

Ideas for boosting community-led work

There was a recognition that this work is resource intensive, but that it can be more rewarding than more extractive forms of reporting. That does not remove the need for growing the revenue necessary to do more journalism. Grants were thought to be a valuable route – but perhaps only if they’re multi-year, given the time needed to ‘bed in’ and grow trust in a community.

There was a suggestion that one role for PINF or another infrastructure organisation could be to curate a group of case studies of practices/inspiration from across the country. Finally, the group touched on what happens when different communities in a place come into conflict – and whose voices are heard in reporting and engagement around such conflict – with interest in a future call on this subject.

What’s next

Next week, we’ll blog the notes from the fifth and final call in this series (on networking in the sector) and we’ll then be working with other ‘infrastructure’ organisations – and anyone else interested – to take some of the ideas and concepts forward. We’ll also be at the Media Democracy Festival on 25 March, which presents a chance for further conversation.

Links shared in the chat:


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