THE National Assembly for Wales Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee has released its report into news journalism in Wales entitled ‘Read all about it – Inquiry into News Journalism
The report makes 18 recommendations and having read the report and the recomendations it promises to be a very interesting 12 months ahead for journalism in Wales.
Newspaper in print circulation is in decline and most of what is left it is fair to say is a homogenised mix gathered from low hanging fruit and social media in the quest for click bait.
Despite a number of hyperlocals starting up in Wales, their future has not been too bright either as they struggle to attract advertising and funding. They are in effect the David as opposed to the Goliath of organisations like Trinity Mirror who reap the rewards when it comes to the monopoly on money for publishing public notices and have the benefit of large sales teams.
Anyone with an ounce of knowledge of basic math must ask themselves what the value of x with a declining circulation of 7k per week is as opposed to y with a growing circulation (reach) of 30k to 50k per week is and whether x actually contains relevant material if one can avoid the minefield of pop up ads and videos.
Those big guns at the BBC and those in the main radio stations have also had it good for many a decade but now the Welsh Assembly have cast a scrutinising eye via a large magnifying glass over the quality and quantity of what they churn out or not as the case may be and are questioning whether or not we as a nation are being served up our quota of adequate local news content.
Last we looked on the cushioned lap tray there was about as much relevant local content as a book on 1,000 things you can do with meat on a vegetarian commune. Llanelli Online did give evidence to the committee much along those lines.
What gives hyperlocals hope is the in depth evidence the committee has heard and considered and based their recommendations on. There is definitely cause for hope within the report and it is hoped that whatever funds are available are used very wisely in order to support at least those who are already up and running and living the reality of hyperlocal provision in their communities.
The committee has considered some of the most fundamentally important issues, which could shape journalism in Wales for the next decade. They have recognised the crisis and the threat to local democracy as the main media outlets leave rural areas.
They have picked up on the existence of and the value of hyperlocals in Wales. They now have £200,000 available for the next two years, which it appears will be ring fenced for supporting hyperlocal journalism in Wales. How to use that cash to maximum effect is the 200k question.
There is a suggestion that the money should be contested for by new and existing hyperlocals but in our view, it will not go very far and inevitably only the most dogged and adept at form filling will secure funding. There are other options, which need considering around a table somewhere in Wales.
One of the major obstacles to remove would be the uneven playing field where the big operators take the cream from WAG and Local Authority budgets for publishing their public notices. Although the law stipulates that the notices must appear in newspapers it does not preclude the publishing of notices online, it is just that it has always been done this way. We recently met with representatives of Carmarthenshire County Council to discuss this issue but their stance was immoveable, which leaves hyperlocals like Llanelli Online looking for crumbs of sustenance elsewhere.
Recommendation 9 may remedy this. It states:
We recommend that the Welsh Government urgently identifies the changes necessary within its competence to enable statutory notices to be published by hyperlocal and online providers and ensures that all future legislation introduced into the Assembly implements these changes where appropriate. Any savings made as a result of lower advertising costs from increased competition should be redirected through targeted funding toward public interest journalism.
And in Recommendation 10:
We recommend that the Welsh Government clarifies to local authorities and other relevant statutory bodies in Wales the freedom they have to place statutory notices online, where current legislation allows this.
The Welsh Government may also play a crucial role in facilitating contact between representatives of the hyperlocal sector, Media Wales and other large news providers to investigate areas of possible collaboration and syndication agreements between them.
They also recommend reviewing the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service, which to date for many in the industry has appeared to be free labour for those big organisations who in turn have been slashing staff numbers. It has raised many an eyebrow from union representatives. The report recommends that the BBC reviews the Local Democracy Reporting Service after 6 months of operation and that the review should examine, concerns that the service will be used by host organisations to replace existing provision, rather than provide additional content.
Welsh Language hyperlocals also get consideration as the committee recommend the Welsh Government commits to a continued investment in Welsh language journalism at the current level at least.
You can read the full report here.