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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mitchell

Taking stock: our new Deputy Director reflects on two years at PINF 

We’re pleased to announce that Joe Mitchell, formerly Head of Impact, is now deputy director of Public Interest News Foundation.


In this post, Joe reflects on two years with PINF – and outlines what most excites him about the organisation's future.

While it's only two years ago, May 2021 somehow seems more distant. The UK was just coming out of that last, very long lockdown. Italian rock band Måneskin were busy winning Eurovision. Europe’s top football clubs were trying to breakaway to form a European superleague. Heady days.


It was also the time I joined PINF as its second employee. I was delighted at the opportunity, because I recognised that PINF’s mission to support public interest news providers was crucial to bring about a healthier democracy in the UK. A country with a thriving, pluralistic news media that works with communities of every geography and identity to inform, inspire and unite, is a country I want to live in.


So it has been a pleasure to work on this cause for the last two years, with a great team and access to a wonderful network. My colleagues are smart, funny and dedicated to the cause – from our occasional freelancers through to the trustees who oversee PINF. And we’re extremely fortunate to work alongside a growing group of inspiring, dedicated independent publishers doing good work in the face of significant challenges.


I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the last two years, across research, advocacy and capacity-building. The Index of Independent News Publishing is a quality product that has improved year on year with bigger samples and richer data. The 2023 report is the best yet: join us for the launch next week. Our leadership and networking work has included both a pandemic-friendly Zoom-based programme of learning which boosted connections and support in the sector and a full-blown in-person forum in Leeds last year, which was popular and helped create our current work programme. We’re running another forum in Bristol this year.


And that’s not to mention our Transformation Programme, Impact Fund, advocacy work at Wales, Scotland and UK levels, Local News Plans...


And the next few years seem full of opportunity. I'll mention just a few workstreams that I’m particularly excited about.


First, to build better evidence of the social benefits of public interest news, through our own research and through helping providers to measure their impact on their communities. We hope to be able to run more action-research programmes like our pilot Impact Fund, and we’ve already scoped some ideas in the field of healthcare. We’ll be convening an impact working group of publishers soon.


Second, to boost our understanding of the consistency and quality of provision of local public interest news, including our first map of local news – we're not far off – and working out how to make this an ongoing monitoring system that can provide an at-a-glance status update on the health of public interest news across the UK. Then going deeper, we plan to borrow from our Australian colleagues’ approach to local news sampling, zooming in to study the actual news content on offer at a local level.


Third, playing our role to develop a better connected and coordinated ‘infrastructure sector’ - i.e. the many small organisations working to support independent news providers – to build up the sector’s ability to provide effective and efficient support whenever and wherever its needed.


Fourth, using all of the above and our advocacy capacity to make the strong case for public support for local public interest news especially, both at an individual level and a societal level. On the former, we’re working with publishers to build a public-facing campaign for independent news, and on the latter, we plan to work to design a clear and specific plan for what UK-wide support for local news would look like – what it would cost, how it would be independent, how and where decisions would be made, and so on – ready to inform the debate in the run up to and beyond the next general election.


There will be much, much more. I’d better get back to it. If you can help, we’re always happy to hear from you at contact@publicinterestnews.org.uk.


Joe Mitchell is deputy director at PINF.

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