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Finding a better way to fund local news: Podcast

On this week’s episode of Media Voices we hear from David Floyd, MD of Social Spider, a community interest company that publishes five community newspapers in London. He tells us about finding a new model for local news – one that’s maybe commercially viable enough – and about why local news matters.

In the news roundup the team discusses the revelations from the Wall Street Journal’s ongoing publication of The Facebook Files, the launch of News UK’s talkTV, and ask if anyone still uses Clubhouse. Chris and Peter have a Fleetwood Mac singalong.

Here are some highlights:

Getting into local news

We fell into launching a local newspaper in 2014. Since then, we’ve been launching more local newspapers. So it’s a slightly strange trajectory into the world of local news publishing, but one that I think has helped quite a lot, because the starting point for our work has always been, we’ve got an idea for a media product which is needed by either a local community or a community of interest.

The challenge we set ourselves is, how do we make this media product commercially viable enough to be able to continue to be of value to the people that it’s working with, and the area or group that it is serving? That’s a big challenge, but it’s a different starting point to the starting point of corporate media groups.

The market for a local title

We’re increasingly finding out that the level that our publications work at is a London borough sized area. That may be different if we were to use the same general model outside London, the model may work differently. But within London, a borough size area is where it works.

So here we have three boroughs, one constituency area, and one postcode in different bits of East, North and Central London currently. It’s partly a population size thing, partly that a long of the income streams are through things like premises licenses and advertising products that businesses have to buy. And to get the number of them you need to make the publication work at scale, it’s better to have a borough-size publication to do that.

Some boroughs have a more real identification from the local population than others do. And in a sense, to some extent, part of the job of the local newspaper is to build that shared understanding across what may be a slightly arbitrarily defined political setup. But they’re generally well enough contained to make it work and have enough shared experiences to make something work.

Behind the scenes

We have a combination of paid journalism and voluntary input from people in the local community. Our editors are all paid journalists, and we also have the BBC Local Democracy reporters for our local areas who are hosted by us. So all those people are paid journalists working on news, and in the editor’s case, editing! Then the features content is commissioned from people in our local community, local residents or people working for community organisations or campaigns in the local area.

That combination enables us just to get a breadth of input into the papers, without what would be a higher cost of paying for freelance contributions across the entire content of the publications.

Why local news really matters

The public interest news element is really, really important. There are things that journalists can do at a local level that individuals and campaign groups cannot do, particularly in terms of holding power to account, in terms of amplifying local voices.

From our point of view in terms of our particular model, the fact that we offer an opportunity for local residents to write themselves… people are mostly compassionate and do care about their fellow citizens. But if you don’t know what’s going on, and that information is not getting to people, then these stories get lost, and people just end up at the mercy of arbitrary power.

Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world