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The Experience of the Independent Publishers Taskforce

Back in April 2019, a group of independent news organisations from across the UK got together to form the Independent Publishers Taskforce. They set out to take the opportunity that the Cairncross Review presented to pursue the initiatives the sector needs, and explore ways of gathering support for smaller, independent publications committed to high standards of journalism. In the course of six months, they got together, shared ideas and challenges, met with other relevant stakeholders and networks, and distilled their proposals into a new document, a blueprint published in November 2019. Two active members of the taskforce, Erica Roffe (Bedford Independent) and Vanessa Baird (New Internationalist) took to the Trust in Journalism Conference 2019 stage to talk about the work of the Taskforce and how collaboration and the willingness to join forces are values inherent in the independent news sector, and what’s next.


Erica Roffe, Managing Editor of the Bedford Independent shared the story of how the paper came to be in 2018 to fill the gap left behind by the closure of the main local title and is now earning ten times greater engagement than their biggest competitor online, the BBC.


"We’re not doing anything revolutionary; we’re just delivering fact based local news to local people and I think that’s at the heart of pretty much what most independent, local publishers are trying to do, be honest, be authentic and deliver local news to local people.”


On the Independent Publishers Taskforce, it's blueprint and working alongside other independent news publishers:


"We’re all separate from each other, but we all face the same challenges and recognise that if we are the save journalism we must collaborate and work together. We’re bigger than the sum of our parts.


Being part of the Taskforce has been a huge boost to our confidence, especially as we are such a fledgling organisation and it has been humbling to work with Vanessa and all the other organisations and members of the Taskforce and we have learned a lot in the process. To be part of this has quite simply been invigorating to our cause and made us realise that what we are doing is the right thing.


The Blueprint seeks not only to prop up public interest news but also to help the players, us, develop our skills to become better news gatherers, business leaders and attract the next generation of journalists so that this vital sector remains alive.”


Set up in 1973, New Internationalist is what Co-editor Vanessa Baird calls, a ' solutions orientated, social, global environmental justice magazine.' Despite the obvious contrasts between this international publication and the local Bedford Independent, Vanessa explained how the two publishers had more in common than one might think, and drew from the Taskforce process in much the same ways:


"The Taskforce has been really exciting for us, for the same reasons that Erica pointed out; it has been very inspiring to see all these new players at such a difficult time for the media, often just really small, passionate hyper-locals that are so serious about the business of journalism – I found it really inspiring. Of course, also very diverse, we have hyper-locals, locals, and then we ourselves are an international magazine. It was also politically quite diverse. At first, I thought that we were all going to be liberal lefties, but actually it was a much broader group than that and it went across the political spectrum, which I think is also a good thing.


We had quite a lot of things in common and one of them was that we were all small in scale; two, that we were passionate about journalism and three, that we are fiercely independent. None of us was corporate and that showed in the way in which we worked together. We weren’t hampered by the blight of hyper-competitiveness. The process itself was very collaborative, very horizontal; it didn’t feel like a tick-box exercise, we weren’t sent out a survey to give our views, we worked hard over several sessions and I think that the way that IMPRESS handled it was very horizontal and very democratic.”


On public interest news and the Taskforce's main output, the Blueprint:


"We were dealing with some quite difficult stuff, because coming from different perspectives we had different views about what public interest might be, public interest journalism might be, what is community? Is it a geographic thing or is it more of an ideological thing?

In the blueprint the independent sector is described as diverse, complex and fragile and I think that pretty much sums us up. This blueprint is really important I think, because we can talk about media democracy, about pluralism and about all the importance of these things for democracy, but if the sector can’t survive it’s really for the birds.


We know what the platforms have done to traditional revenue streams, so a foundation that exists to benefit the public - and it’s very important that it does - and does that to sustain independent public interest journalism seems to be the best way forward and the fact that it’s independent of the state is also a big plus if we are to protect journalistic independence and defend our ability to hold power to account."


More information about the Independent Publishers Taskforce and the Blueprint can be found at:

https://www.publicinterestnews.org.uk/

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