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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mitchell

What does the election mean for public interest news?

Joe Mitchell reflects on the landslide General Election last week and what we might expect from a new Labour government on public interest news in the UK.

It’s probably not escaped your notice that we have a new parliament in Westminster, and a new Labour government in Whitehall. But what does this mean for public interest news? 

Well, if we go by the Labour manifesto alone, not much. But other developments, including a couple of key ministerial appointments and the diligent reporting of independent local outlets in our network, give us more cause for optimism.

Let’s start with the Labour manifesto. Entitled ‘Change’, the 133-page document makes a single brief mention of the BBC, with no other reference to the media, journalism or local news. On the broadcaster, it said:

‘We will work constructively with the BBC and our other public service broadcasters so they continue to inform, educate and entertain people, and support the creative economy by commissioning distinctively British content.’

More interestingly, however, is Lisa Nandy's appointment as the new Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  

Back in 2020, in her campaign in the Labour Party leadership contest (the one which Keir Starmer won), the MP for Wigan wrote a piece on the media for LabourList. In it she discusses defending the BBC, as well as saying: 

‘The rise of online media and falling ad revenues is hitting our most trusted sources of information hardest: local and regional news... 
‘If we are going to defend our news from attack, it must do better to reflect the people it serves. That means breaking out of the cozy club created by Westminster journalists and politicians… 
‘I would propose a new settlement with our news media. To protect its voice, and ensure it represents the whole of the UK. My Labour government would tax social media companies to create a fund to support local media and investigative journalism, building on the local democracy reporters scheme.’ 

Four years is a long time in politics, but the piece does suggest that Nandy understands the importance of - and challenges facing - quality public interest news, particularly at a local level.  

This week, in Nandy’s first ministerial speech, given to civil servants at DCMS, she said: 

‘For too long, for too many people, the story we tell ourselves about ourselves as a nation has not reflected them, their communities or their lives.’ 

Along with Nandy, Sir Chris Bryant (MP for Rhondda and Ogmore) has been appointed as Minister of State in DCMS (as well as the Dept for Science, Innovation and Technology). On the 2024 election campaign trail, Bryant told the independent local Reading Today that local news matters: 

‘It’s part of having a strong, functioning country that you need to have proper scrutiny of decisions made by local councillors, you need proper news reporting,
‘One of the things that that seems to have disappeared in the last few years is so many local newspapers, so yes, we want to do more to make sure (local news) is protected.’ 

PINF is looking forward to meeting with the new ministerial team as soon as we can, and to pressing the case for support - and actions they could take - for public interest news. 

We’ve also noted that there are some newly elected MPs who have crossed over from the fourth estate. These include: Paul Waugh (MP for Rochdale, formerly of the BBC, Independent and HuffPost), Yuan Yang (MP for Earley and Woodley, formerly of the Financial Times), and Torcuil Crichton (MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles), formerly of the Daily Record). If you know of any others, do let us know. 

Election news coverage 

Meanwhile, a large proportion of the independent news sector was up all night last week reporting live from results counts across the country.

As well as observing, explaining and reporting the results and candidate speeches, several providers traded stories in PINF’s WhatsApp group on the best liveblogging tools to use and the tech needed to livestream. One indie reported their highest website traffic ever on the night.  

The Greenwich Wire editor, Darryl Chamberlain, told us: 

‘We expanded from our usual Greenwich patch and covered three counts - eight constituencies and a council by-election - with a story for each. I did this because I knew the legacy local media would ignore our part of SE London - and it was only us and a community radio station covering the Greenwich and Bexley counts. We had video of most of the winners' acceptance speeches and a report from each count up on Friday morning. 
'It was hard work but enjoyable. Access was more restricted at some counts than others, but we did manage to grab a chat with a local embalmer at the Bexley count - she was filling in for her sister in the leisure centre cafe. By pulling out of our communities, the corporate publishers are missing out.'

You can read Tahira Yaqoob’s report on the Bexley count for The Greenwich Wire here

As Darryl says, the news media coverage of the election counts could be patchy. PINF will be doing a quick review of constituency-level news coverage online to ask: did voters get high quality local information on the election and their candidates? We’ll report back soon. 

And finally... with pretty good timing, tomorrow sees the first session of PINF’s Local News Commission, which you can read about here. We then run second and third sessions in the autumn. We look forward to sharing the results of the commission with you, and with the new government. 

Joe Mitchell is Deputy Director at PINF.

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