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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mitchell

What's next for mapping the UK's local news?

PINF’s deputy director, Joe Mitchell, outlines where we are with local news mapping. 



The story so far

 

A quick refresher: at PINF, we believe that everyone in the UK should benefit from public interest news that speaks to them, for them and with them.  


It follows that we need to understand who currently benefits from public interest news and who doesn’t. We might call this ‘inequality in news provision’. That inequality might be seen across communities of place, identity, or practice. 


We started with place-based or geographic inequality. Which areas of the UK enjoy a wide range of local news providers, and which are getting by on one or two - or none at all? 

 

Inspired by mapping projects from the US and Australia, and with support from JRSST Charitable Trust, we created a pilot database, visualisation and analysis report. You can catch up on that here. We found significant place-based inequality in the provision of local news.  


The pilot funding ended with the launch of the map and report, but there was such interest in the map, it encouraged us to dip into reserves to try to keep it up-to-date. The visualisation currently shows what we know at the end of Feb 2024. 


Map nerds united 


Since the pilot, we've received lots of feedback on the map, and we've shared the dataset with a dozen or so interested parties. 


In November 2023, we convened a range of interested partners, hosted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), to try to encourage a collective effort towards better mapping. This included a range of mapping and journalism nerds from academia, government, regulators, civil society and news providers. 


The workshop raised many complex questions about mapping methodologies, and plenty of ideas for the future. 


Small steps 


Fast forward a few months, and we are currently working on a small contract with DCMS to deliver some improvements to the existing database and visualisation designed to make it more sustainable in future. 


This involves working with data scientist Simona Bisiani to build automations to help reduce the manual labour involved in maintaining the database. And it involves some tweaks to the visualisation to improve usability and readability. 


To the future! 


There’s clearly a big appetite for better news mapping for the UK. The championing of support for local news is gathering pace; and when that support arrives, we will need a strong evidence base to help target it.  


That will require more nuanced, complex mapping. Ideally, we'd go beyond simply counting the number of outlets per local authority, and move towards measuring the local relevance of the content, and the extent to which it is public interest news.  


This week, we’ve applied to the Nuffield Foundation for three-year support for a project that will do just that, building on our existing work to develop the concept of a "Local News Score", based on several metrics. It'll be a few months before we hear back, wish us luck. 


Work on mapping will form a core part of PINF’s evolving research objectives, on which, more soon.  


We’d love to hear your ideas and comments - please get in touch via contact@publicinterestnews.org.uk


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