More notes from this morning’s train journey down to C&binet at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport.
The word holistic annoys me for some reason, but I can’t think of any other. Journalism’s problem is holistic; the solution is likely to be holistic as well. There is no magic bullet, so here are 10 ideas of things that government and other public bodies can do to help journalism.
- Journalism as volunteering – formally recognise journalism as a way to contribute to your local community: cleaning out the trash, so to speak, in a figurative sense. Provide the formal structures to support this: training, legal support, travel costs, connections. As a side-effect this can help address the Samantha Syndrome in the media: journalists increasingly coming from affluent backgrounds as they are the only ones who can afford to support themselves through internships, training etc. Make journalism a formal volunteering activity and you widen the pool of participants, while increasing media literacy.Arts funding for journalism – journalism is art. Journalism that engages particularly effectively with communities is, for me, worthy of arts funding. Let’s help that happen.
- Tax relief/support – on, for example, R&D. Local newspapers are sitting on a vast archive of local information that could be hugely useful if effectively digitised and an API created. Let’s help that happen.
- Open supply of information and data from public bodies – instead of spending the council PR budget on a local freesheet, spend part of it on streaming council meetings and providing public data that acts as a resource for professional journalists, citizen journalists, developers, startups and citizens generally.
- Outreach training & support – also from the council PR pot: if ‘celebrating the area’ is your objective spend money training local people and support them editorially to blog about the great and not so great things happening in their area.
- A Council News Network – Nick Booth’s suggestion of the BBC as a model for publicly owned news is a great one. Take editorial control over council news away from councils to a body that has independence. The BBC would be a good candidate for this.
- Postcode-based direct mail – If councils object to being required to advertise notices in their local paper on the ground that it doesn’t reach everyone, use direct mail through another agent. The Newspaper Club could do this very well: telling people about planning alerts, etc. based on their postcode, with the money used to subsidise other journalism.
- Wired cities – a perfect place for local information is the bus stop or train station – not just billboards but electronic systems that currently show bus times. Why not show other local information there? Invest in the infrastructure and improve local distribution networks for information. Put the supply of that information out to tender.
- VRM for power and people – Yoosk is a good model for vendor relationship management (VRM) between politicians and citizens: people post questions, politicians answer, and users vote on whether they felt the question was answered. Ultimately this is part of great journalism: interrogating power and holding power to account. The funding criteria need to avoid domination by powerful, so it might be based on, for example, the numbers of people looking at planning alerts, council meetings, engaging, voting etc.
- Providing efficiencies – supplying raw data is one efficiency; organisations like the BBC could provide training, platforms, kit and space, pubic organisations have distribution networks. All of these can be opened up for greater efficiency.
- Legal change – Libel is an enormous obstacle to true engagement with and challenging of power, particularly for news startups, and needs to be urgently addressed. Widening the Freedom of Information Act to apply to organisations who receive public money above a certain amount would be hugely useful. There are probably others you can add.
Those are the ideas I have, anyway. Anything to add?
UPDATE: FROM THE COMMENTS:
- Simon Clarke: “some kind of move against police harassment of journalists for spurious “security” reasons.”
- Paul Miller: “banning junk mail would have a pretty positive impact. It accounts for 11.5% of UK advertising spend and shifting that online and into newspapers would be a big boost to local revenues.”