What happened at the Independent News Forum – and what happens next?
Earlier this month, the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) and partners hosted a gathering of independent news providers and infrastructure organisations. In this blogpost, Joe Mitchell details what happened and previews a series of blogposts to come, each focusing on one of the ideas for projects coming out of the event.
On Saturday 15 October, PINF hosted the Independent News Forum at the School of Media and Communication at Leeds University. The forum brought together independent news providers from across the UK, as well as organisations designed to support them. The event set out to boost solidarity and community among providers – often one-or-two-person teams – and to identify potential projects that could benefit the whole sector.
The forum was organised by PINF and Leeds University’s Journalism Research Group, with generous sponsorship from Stone King and The Lankelly Chase Foundation. Support from these sponsors made it possible for participants from across the UK to attend. These were: The Bristol Cable; West Leeds Dispatch; Caerphilly Observer; Bedford Independent; Greater Govanhill; Opus Independents (who publish Now Then in Sheffield); Social Spider CIC (who publish Waltham Forest Echo, Tottenham Community Press, Enfield Dispatch, EC1 Echo and Barnet Post in London); Lochside Press; The Clydesider; Fully Focused Productions; Wokingham Today; and Exeter Observer. Infrastructure organisations – that is, organisations that do not directly provide news, but support those who do – were the Public Interest News Foundation, Independent Media Association, Media Reform Coalition, and IMPRESS.
Why host a forum?
In 2020 and 2021, PINF ran leadership programmes for two cohorts of independent news providers. These were made up of a series of video calls, typically with speakers and discussion. We knew from the participant feedback that the best part of the programme was the time spent comparing notes with other providers. We had also seen interest amongst the news providers in working together on shared problems or projects that they thought could benefit the sector as a whole. The forum was a way of providing some space and time to meet in-person to compare notes, challenges, and approaches, and to dedicate time to work on some of those projects.
24 hours in Leeds
The news weekender began with a Friday afternoon field trip to Bramley, to visit the community newsroom of the West Leeds Dispatch, kindly hosted by editor John Baron. We learned about the role of the Dispatch in the local community and how John guides many volunteers to put together a daily news website plus a quarterly print newspaper covering 11 areas in West Leeds. With support from The National Lottery Community Fund, the Dispatch runs a rapid training programme for local people to learn the basics of journalism and ideally go on to contribute to the paper. As ever though, finding a model of long-term financial sustainability to enable the Dispatch to keep telling local stories is tricky.
On Saturday, PINF led sessions designed to help clarify the group’s shared values, generate and prioritise ideas for working together, and, finally, choose ones to develop at the gathering and beyond.
The shared values session was heartening and enlightening. Folks paired up to ask each other why they do what they do, and from that came lists of inspiring purposes that remained posted up on the walls for the rest of the day. The list of ‘whys’ included: providing a voice for communities; representation; building trust and partnership within and between communities; boosting local pride; empowerment; challenging and scrutinising authority; tackling a democratic deficit; respect; public service – and love!
The next session was designed to generate ideas for what the sector needs to better meet those values. Ideas were not in short supply: they ranged from shared infrastructure, such as joint advertising sales, to shifts in public culture around paying for news, and from new schools of journalism to ‘Michelin stars for media’.
A quick and active round of collectively ranking a longlist of suggestions for what the group could do together resulted in five clusters of ideas around new models, community, impact, networking and public awareness. For the rest of the day, people worked on the issues that they felt most enthusiastic about.
Five ideas for collaborative projects
The forum split up into teams to work on five potential projects – sketching what needed to happen, who should be involved and potential next steps. The five projects outlined were to:
Define and develop new models of journalism;
Create a PR campaign for independent news;
Build and communicate evidence of impact;
Build a distributed support network;
Encourage deep community engagement.
The first of those was perhaps the broadest concept, encapsulating reflections from across the forum, so we begin with the outline from that group below. Each of the other four project outlines will be detailed in the rest of this series of blogposts.
New models of journalism
The group working on this idea proposed a need to define and develop a new model – or models - of journalism. This definition would cover content, business models, ethos and values.
New models of journalism have community benefit as their central purpose – whether that community is local, national or identity-based.
The group proposed that new models would adopt value statements such as ‘leading by listening’, ‘nothing for us without us’ and ‘be a radiator not a drain’ (that is, add value to a community rather than simply extracting stories or revenues).
Other central aspects of new models are that they involve accountability and transparency (of funding, ownership and any conflicts of interest) as well as a fairer distribution of power.
Organisations working toward these new models are better connected to each other for support and learning; they have links with arts organisations and local statutory and voluntary sectors.
The role of organisations that are practicing the new model is to create space, generate hope, work with honesty and clarity, and have an open-door policy to their communities.
These new models require new types of financing, which could include participatory peer-funding models. They would require new forms of training and new opportunities to scale.
It was proposed that the Independent Media Association (IMA) could lead on further definition and development of new models going forward, and PINF is happy to help host the first call on this subject.
If you’re interested in more clearly delineating or defining new models of journalism – what counts and what doesn’t count – please sign up to this Zoom call on Monday 9 January, 2023 at 2pm. If you can’t make the call but want to comment on this concept, there’s a shared document.
Feedback on the forum
Responses to the short online form that PINF circulated afterwards made it clear that the forum participants were delighted to spend some time together in person, having mostly only ‘met’ on videocalls, if at all.
Responses also suggested a strong appetite to meet up on a regular basis, ideally every six months – and over a longer period than one day. Other ideas included more time for each organisation to introduce themselves, as well as opening any future events to a broader range of organisations.
What happens next
PINF will write up each of the rest of the open space groups as a blogpost over the coming weeks. We will host a videocall for anyone interested in continuing the conversation on any or all of these topics – look for the link at the bottom of each blogpost. Everyone is welcome to join any or all of the calls – whether you were in Leeds or not.
We also plan to arrange a specific catchup for the organisations who have a role in networking or connecting indie news providers. That includes those who were in Leeds – IMPRESS, IMA (Independent Media Association), MRC and PINF – as well as ICNN and any others who see themselves as having such a role: please just get in touch.
Thanks to everyone who took the time out of their weekends to join the forum with enthusiasm and drive for a better news world. Thanks again to Julie Firmstone and the Journalism Research Group at Leeds University’s School of Media & Communication for all their help providing the space. Thanks to John Baron at West Leeds Dispatch for hosting us on Friday afternoon. And finally, thanks to Lankelly Chase Foundation and Stone King for making it possible for so many organisations from all over the UK to attend.
Watch out for the rest of the series of blogposts and the links to sign up to video calls – follow @PINewsF on twitter for updates, or sign up to PINF’s mailing list here.