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Where else might we find evidence of impact of local journalism?



PINF is keen to build the evidence base on the public benefit of journalism in the UK. Last week, we published the final report of our Impact Fund, which looked at the effects of local journalism on democratic engagement. In this post, we report on a range of other areas where we might expect to see positive results from more robust local journalism.


We welcome thoughts on how to measure that impact, and links to other organisations that share our research question.


Why does this matter?

There are several reasons we need to show the impact of local journalism.

First, PINF is a charity. We exist for the public benefit. We need to know that the activity we’re supporting is benefiting the public.

Second, evidence of impact is going to help us make the case to people with access to resources, so we can do more of what works.

Third, we know that newsrooms are keen to show their value too – and if we can help them learn what’s most impactful, then they can both do more of it and use that evidence to build their case for support from their readers, donors and advertisers.

Fourth, we know there’s quite a lot of evidence in the USA – see, for example, this excellent round up of the impact of journalism on democracy – but we can’t simply assume that the same holds true on this side of the Atlantic: there needs to be UK-specific research.

Where we might look for impact

Last week, we published the final report on our first Impact Fund, where we tried out an action-research approach to showing the impact of increased local journalism on democratic engagement in specific wards.

We learned a lot about what it takes to do good research into impact and we are keen to build on this, potentially via an Impact Fund v2. This second edition might continue to look at democratic engagement, or could look at other areas of the impact of local journalism. It could also take an action-research / quasi-experimental approach, or could use a different research methodology, such as an ethnography or an examination of historical data.

At this year’s Oxford Media Convention, we held a workshop to try to generate new ideas for research projects. Thanks to everyone who came along and contributed.

The workshop particularly focused on where else we could expect to see the impact of journalism. We’ve grouped all the ideas into the themes below: Community 

  • Creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging

  • Platforming local initiatives and events 

  • Increasing community involvement

  • Boosting community cohesion or community connections

  • Building community

  • Providing a neutral space for citizens not consumers 

  • Providing a community voice 

  • Helping people feel like ‘citizens of somewhere’ 

  • Boosting community campaigns

  • Highlighting local stories and positive stories about a place

  • Building greater understanding of local communities and mechanics / influencers (network map) 

  • Boosting volunteering rates

Crime and justice

  • Preventing corruption

  • Recognising justice process: justice must be seen to be done

  • Helping perceptions of crime more accurately reflect reality

Culture

  • Inspiring young people to write 

  • Creating opportunities for first-time writers 

  • Helping opinion formation through providing more information, more choices

  • Growing understanding of local context and history (an example was given around historic slavery in Hackney and how this might relate to people’s understanding of recent news around statues and help depolarisation) 

  • Recording history – keeping records and archives rich with local information

  • Addressing exclusion (e.g. via language or format) 

  • Promoting understanding of different identities 

  • Helping individuals to understand their own identity

  • Increasing understanding and sympathy between people or groups, such as intergenerational understanding, or understanding of traveller communities (there was the idea that we could measure objections to traveller planning applications as one metric for this)

  • Changing journalism itself

Business and economy

  • Unpicking and contextualising the economy 

  • Boosting local business growth 

  • Boosting local understanding of local economy 

Citizenship and democracy

  • Helping citizens be more active in governance

  • Holding councillors to account

  • Increasing representation of underrepresented groups

  • Raising understanding of local government

  • Helping people to engage with national/local issues that affect them, and increasing people’s ability to advocate for themselves 

The potential health or environmental impacts of local journalism did not come up in the workshop, but PINF is certainly interested in these too. For example, might more local journalism help reduce air or river pollution; might there be other effects on local health outcomes?

What’s next?


We thus have a long list of the potential positive impacts of local journalism. It’s not comprehensive – do please get in touch with more ideas.

The trickier task is finding measures of those things – and then seeing what the impact of journalism is on those measures.

For the first edition of the Impact Fund, this was straightforward – we could take advantage of robust existing measures of democratic engagement: voter turnout percentage and voter registration numbers are (mostly) promptly collected and published by local government per local ward area.

Wherever we next look for impact, in the absence of our own significant evaluation resources, we’re going to want to piggyback on other such pre-existing local data sources.

For example, if we wanted to look at journalism’s impact on crime and justice, we might take as a hypothesis that local journalism has an impact on the perceptions of crime, closing the perception/reality gap, increasing feelings of safety, and so on. Data on perceptions of crime and feelings of safety is already collected by the Crime Survey for England and Wales – so, depending on how local that data is - we could use changes in those metrics to investigate the effects of changes in local journalism provision.

Again, if we wanted to build the evidence for journalism’s positive impact on the theme of community, we might take as a hypothesis that greater local journalism boosts local volunteering. Data on volunteering levels is already collected by the DCMS Taking Part / Participation survey, which if it is sufficiently local, could serve as a useful measure to watch if we fund increased local journalism in a specific area. More simply, we could try to identify a correlation between volunteering levels and local journalism.

We welcome more suggestions of datasets that can provide robust data of local attitudes or behaviour that might make a good measure for the impact for local journalism.

We’re also looking for funders who care about those areas – culture, community, crime and justice, business/economy, environment or health - who would also be interested in partnering with us to learn about the impact of journalism on these aspects of public benefit.

And we’re always looking for more research expertise, so get in touch if you have thoughts on methodologies we should be using, resources that small charities like us can use, and so on.

Lastly, we’re also hosting a Zoom call (register here) on building and communicating evidence of impact on Tues 24 January 2023, as a result of some thinking done by independent newsrooms at our Independent News Forum last month.

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