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Local News Matters - Why Bureau Local wants to "change the story"

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10 March 2020

Rachel Hamada

When local newspapers close, media companies get rid of reporters in rural areas, or journalists are deskbound and time-strapped, democracy suffers.

Local news matters. Research shows that the "democratic deficit" is a real thing - when communities lose access to quality local news, it impacts on their engagement with local politics and it decreases voter turnout.

It's also clear that many people in Britain feel alienated from the "establishment", including the media, and that many marginalised communities are systematically underrepresented or misrepresented in the press.

This all needs to change: hence the launch of Change the Story, a project set up by Bureau Local.

The Bureau Local is a people-powered news network with over one thousand members. We have, together, spent the past three years exploring how to set the news agenda and spark change from the ground up.

The team was set up by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in response to the crisis facing local newspapers, with more than 300 local and regional titles lost in the decade to 2017 and many more closing since. We wanted to serve local news reporters and bloggers who found themselves short of capacity, help them to cover strong local stories, and nurture a sense of collective support, morale and cooperation.

We did this by collecting big datasets (often through freedom of information, or by grassroots information collection across the country), cleaning them up and making them available to journalists to report on locally, and to show national patterns.

We were behind #MakeThemCount, the project that for the first time counted the number of people who died homeless in the UK, and #SoldFromUnderYou, which revealed the scale of the sell-off of our public libraries, parks and buildings, among many other stories.

Our experiment so far has been encouraging, showing that people care about and will get involved with local journalism if trust is built and the topics reflect their lives and concerns.

We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have joined the network who are not journalists but believe in the mission of local journalism - from coders to academics to campaigners to citizens who care about their communities and how good storytelling can improve them.

We've also carried out work around media sustainability and business models and want to continue to collaborate on this, to help make sure that journalism can survive and thrive in new ways in the wake of collapsed advertising revenue models. In a declining market, traffic has become king - and Kardashians get a lot more clicks than councils.

But we are only one part of the puzzle. The Bureau Local isn't a solution to the challenges facing local news, it's part of a solution that involves many people and projects. We want to listen to ideas just as much as to share them, and we value all expertise: knowledge, skills and experience.

So the next step is to throw this process open wider to even more people, and to work together to reimagine local news so that it is valuable to citizens and valued by them.

We would love as many people as possible, including NUJ members, to take part in this project with us. With a clear community around this issue, we might keep the conversation going and learn from one another.

We are doing this over the next few months by launching our Change the Story project. Please get involved! This will include:

  • Publishing a pop-up newsletter so that a wider community can feed into this process too and find out about the questions we are asking and progress we are making.
  • Holding a gathering in Hull this summer to bring people together around this work and to talk about how news can be useful for everyone. Register to attend.
  • Running a three-month advisory group, made up of some amazing journalists and engaged citizens from all over the country.

We hope you will get involved.

Rachel Hamada is the Community Organiser for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Tags: , local new matters, local news matters week, bureau local