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local news Reviving the Welsh media


What do the NUJ’s general secretary, a leading actor, a journalist and academic, and many union members have in common? David Nicholson finds out


S


olutions to the failing media industry in Wales were discussed by the union’s Welsh executive council and


NUJ Training Wales at an online meeting they organised late last year. The country is unique in the UK because it doesn’t have a national daily newspaper. Most bought titles are English newspapers with no specific Welsh news coverage. NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet was joined by: actor and political activist Michael Sheen; Dr Ifan Morgan Jones, a lecturer at Bangor University, who is the editor of online news service Nation.Cymru; broadcaster and ITV Cymru Wales programme and digital editor Louise Elliot; and Welsh Government deputy minister for economy and transport Lee Waters, a former broadcaster. Stanistreet introduced


the Welsh version of the union’s news recovery plan, From Health Crisis to Good News, and set out how the Covid-19 pandemic was hitting an already devastated journalism scene inWales.


“Our recovery plan identifies


08 | theJournalist


and outlines the problems and challenges but, most importantly, it offers practical solutions,” she said. “This debate is part of the engagement to build support for meaningful intervention and change in Wales.” Sheen works closely with NUJ Welsh


executive council member Dr Rae Howells on local news provision inWales.


“When I was growing up in Port


Talbot in the 1970s, there were five local newspapers with over 20 reporters,” Sheen said. He recalled how as a boy, if he had scored a goal, he would race to get the weekly paper as it always included the names of all scorers in the local leagues. “Now there is one newspaper, which


has one part-time journalist based 10 miles away in Swansea,” he noted. He said that a key point was not when newspapers closed down but when local news was reported by journalists who were not embedded in that community. Sheen praised several Welsh


hyperlocal news sites such as the Caerphilly Observer, Wrexham.Com, Nation.Cymru and Cwmbran Life as well as the UK-wide Independent Community


Clockwise from top left: Michelle; Louise Elliot; Michael Sheen; Dr Ifan Morgan Jones; and Lee Waters.


News Network, administered by Cardiff University. “I want to support, celebrate, expand and connect these local networks in a more powerful way and possibly set up a pan-Wales entity that grassroots journalism can feed into,” he said. Morgan Jones told the meeting that he believed the problem was not one of demand for local news but of supply. “What we have seen is a big reduction in the number of journalists as we fail to replace the old advertising sales model with something that works as well online,” he said. “Number one is to move away from


journalism being a business and a way to make money. It’s a public service, as essential as a bin collection or running water. It’s something that a community needs.” Elliot, who has worked as a journalist


in Wales for 30 years, echoed the point about demand for local news and offered some salutary figures from ITV Wales. “Fifty per cent more people were


watching Wales at Six this September than they were in 2019 and online our coverage is reaching 31 million video views on Facebook and 20 million page views on the ITV Wales website,” she said.


Recording of the NUJ Town Hall meeting http://bit.ly/ NUJtownHallMeeting


Summary of the Welsh Media Recovery Plan http://bit.ly/Summary OfWalesRecoveryPlan


NUJ briefing on the impact of Covid-19 on the Welsh media http://bit.ly/NUJSelect CommitteeBriefing


From health crisis to good news: NUJ news recovery plan http://bit.ly/ NUJnewsRecoveryPlan


Independent Community News Network http://bit.ly/aboutICNN


Elliot used the analogy of traditional media being like a black taxi with digital media akin to Uber: “Both are doing the same thing, but delivering in different ways.” Waters pointed to the central


dilemma between Sheen’s point about monetising hyperlocal news sites and Jones’s about journalism as a public service. “It’s certainly true that people are


interested in local news, but they are not interested in paying for it,” he said. “I think that’s really what this discussion needs to be about – it’s about finding a way towards a business model.” Waters said he was looking at ideas for a Senedd wire service to provide some scrutiny and coverage of the Welsh parliament.


He also told the meeting of the


possible end of statutory public notices in Wales and how the money spent could be used to support journalism in a different way: “We know that’s coming in 2023 so we have a couple of years to think about what replaces it.” The union is considering all the ideas discussed and will draw them together in a revised media recovery plan forWales.


STILLS PRESS / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO


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