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NUJ supports UK events to 'Make Your Local News Work'

29 May 2013

More and more communities are being left without a local media outlet as local newspapers close and titles merge. The NUJ is to host the first in a series of events organised by Co-operatives UK in partnership with the Carnegie UK Trust to foster and promote alternative media ownership models.

David Montgomery, chairman of Local World, which has just over 100 local paper titles, in evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said the old model of a local journalist going outside the office, researching and writing up individual stories was "a model from the middle ages".

The NUJ, in contrast, believes journalists should be at the heart of their local communities, speaking and listening to their readers. Job cuts across all titles in local and regional newspapers mean that council and planning meetings and courts are not being covered.

The NUJ is campaigning to save our local media and, as part of this, the union is supporting a series of events with Co-operatives UK and Carnegie UK Trust to look at how good journalism can still be funded and where the definition of viability is set by the needs of the community for news, not the needs of the balance sheet of a paper's owner.

The events are aimed at local communities, journalists and media professionals who are exploring practical ways to create a sustainable and democratic local media.

The programme will demonstrate that co-operative media ownership models can succeed by putting the readers and writers at the heart of journalism. They will offer participants free, specialist follow-up support and advice for those wanting to explore the possibility of collective media ownership.

The New Internationalist and the Associated Press are established examples and there will be a focus at the events on new and emerging co-operatives in the local media. One leading example is the West Highland Free Press, Britain's first employee-owned local newspaper, and the paper's managing director Paul Wood will speak at the launch event, and three other workshops.

There has been an unprecedented five years of decline in UK regional newspapers with double-figure falls in advertising revenues and sales. In response, many companies have resorted to deep cutbacks in virtually all areas of their businesses, including the number of journalists employed. There has been a dramatic retreat from newspaper offices having a physical presence at the heart of towns and communities.

Among the daily and weekly newspapers making up the Northcliffe side of the combined stable of Local World, owned by the Daily Mail General Trust there was a 48 per cent fall in the number of people employed by the business between 2008-12 from 4,200 to 2,200. The dramatic cutbacks also swept aside a significant number of titles in the Northcliffe portfolio with the total being published cut from 115 to 85 during the same period.

Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary, who will be speaking at the first meeting in London, said:

"This is the first in a series of public meetings the NUJ is supporting. The union is unequivocal about the importance of the greatest level of media plurality possible to the fabric of the country's democracy. We believe the ownership of existing titles carries a duty to balance not only making profit but also to meet communites' need for local news.
"The axe has repeatedly fallen,  usually to try to support very high levels of profit margins of 20 per cent or more, used to service large debts, with scant concern for the loss of editorial quality and service to the community. We hope these events will focus attention on the plight of the regional and local press in the UK and the need to safeguard editorial integrity and the quality of content in a digital age. Alternative forms of media ownership will form a major part of this debate."

Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish organiser, who will be speaking at a similar event in Glasgow on 18 June, said:

"We support a vibrant local press which responds to its community and maintains high-quality journalism. The co-operative model and other business model alternatives must be explored if the media is to develop and continue to serve its readers."

See the list of all the Make Your Local News Work events in the UK in our Events section.

Tags: , ownership, co-operatives, west highland free press