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Jenny Sims reports from the Centre for Community Journalism conference


Building a future for community journalism


Y


es, they can! Yes, they are! Hyperlocals are increasingly filling the news gaps left by the closure of hundreds of local newspapers throughout the country. But it’s love and idealism, not money, that’s driving most of


them. And we’re a long way off from getting blanket coverage across the UK. However, matters are looking up. Searches for the Holy Grail – a sustainable business model – were generously shared recently at a conference organised by Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism (C4CJ). A mix of grants, subscriptions, crowdfunding, pledges and


paywalls are enabling them to survive. The event’s popularity showed the appetite among


journalists to know more about the hyperlocal sector, its future and whether it might be for them. More than 100


people attended, forcing the organisers – to their delight – to switch venue to the Wales Millennium Centre to meet the demand. And it was no local affair. NUJ members and others came from Northern Ireland, Scotland and England as well as from throughout Wales. There were even two sign-ups from Norway and Sweden – two countries keenly tracking how C4CJ is helping ‘build the future of community journalism’ in the UK.


The Welsh government’s pledge of £200,000 for hyperlocal


developers over two years has boosted interest in Wales. This funding initiative follows cross-party political recognition that news reporting in Wales is in crisis, and there is a growing democratic deficit. At micro level, the public too have woken up to the fact that their community paper or website may be their main or only means of getting local news and are increasing willing to commit funding, from pledges to regular subscriptions. A classic example is Se1, the south London website


(www.london-se1.co.uk) founded by James Hatts and his father 20 years ago to keep locals in the northern part of the Southwark borough informed about major changes taking place. In 2016 it nearly folded, but readers saved it. An appeal


went out: in return for joining a membership scheme, readers were offered a free monthly newsletter delivered to their door. Enough people rallied round to more than keep Se1 afloat. Since the ‘unique role’ Hatts and Se1 played following the London Bridge terrorist attack last year, ‘providing up-to- date information to those caught up in the incident, including residents and businesses’, they have gained many more appreciative subscribers. “People told me it was invaluable because they were getting


information that wasn’t available elsewhere,” said Hatts. For 10 days, Hatts walked around the area cordoned off by


ICNN is launched – and members want press cards Fortunately, people


Security confiscated my Swiss pen knife (I got it back later) but I wasn’t asked for my press card going through check-in at the National Assembly for Wales building (the Senedd). I was attending a


reception for the official launch of ICNN – the Independent Community News Network, which followed C4CJ’s conference, Building the Future of Community Journalism.


weren’t challenged for this important piece of ID or a number of journalists wouldn’t have got in – which would have been embarrassing for all concerned. I’ve got an NUJ press card,


but many ‘community’ journalists who attended have not. They would like one, but do not qualify under the rules. That causes a problem: community journalists


doing the job of traditional local newspapers are often barred from covering council meetings, court hearings and other events. Getting press card recognition is therefore one of ICNN’s top priorities. Emma Meese, C4CJ’s


manager and director of ICNN, says they’re ‘working


with the NUJ’ on the issue. Since its ‘unofficial’ launch


last July, ICNN – the UK’s first representative body for the community and hyperlocal news sector, had more than 70 active members signed up by the beginning of January, including the Bristol Cable, Wrexham.com, Love Wapping and The Ferret in Glasgow. It offers training and free


consultancy services to both start-ups and


established publications on issues including media law guidance, funding and new media. Matt Abbott, C4CJ’s


communications and project officer, said: “We aim to ensure a dynamic hyperlocal news ecosystem across the UK.”


More information


about ICNN at: https://www. communityjournalism. co.uk/icnn/


10 | theJournalist


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