£8m of public money is to be used to address a lack of reporting on local democratic institutions and will see substantial sums of money going to Public Limited Companies like Trinity Mirror.
The Welsh Government has previously  given £341,000 to Newsquest to help secure jobs at its Welsh-based subbing hub while hyperlocals received nothing. It is a situation most hyperlocals springing up around the U.K. find themselves in and are left questioning what they have to do to get support.

In March 2017 Emma Meese of  the Cardiff University Centre for Community Journalism wrote: “There is a myth that we need to continue to support and prop up traditional print media in order to save local journalism from certain death. Whilst continued support is important, what is even more important is that hundreds of other deserving news publishers are no longer ignored.”

It is time for Governments to stop thinking in terms of ‘newspapers’ and start thinking in terms of ‘news publishers’. This is as crucial when deciding who can publish public notices as it is when giving out funding. It’s time to balance the scales and ensure that all news publishers are given the same opportunities to grow and flourish.

“The growing hyperlocal and community news sector thrives in various guises across the UK. Many are plugging the gap left behind by traditional print media, which have either diminished in communities or left altogether.

“The smaller news publications may not all look the same, but they have one thing in common – they play an increasingly important role in addressing the democratic deficit and supporting the information needs of communities. These individuals choose to suffer long council meetings and monotonous briefings in order to scrutinise those representing them and provide civic value.

“Just look at the amazing work they do with only one or two members of staff, and imagine the impact they could have as a team of three or four. A relatively small amount of funding can go a long way, in the right hands.”

Hyperlocals play a significant role in addressing the deficit in local democracy reporting where the mainstream rags often do not turn up. The scheme was originally set up between the News Media Association (NMA) and and the BBC.

Matt Abbott from the Centre for Community Journalism told Llanelli Online: “The C4CJ has argued since the inception of the scheme that hyperlocals should be considered a valuable part of the process. Hyperlocals can now bid for access to the content and can partner with larger organisations in order to access some of the funding. We are pleased to see that there are one or two larger hyperlocals looking to apply for funding, though many, many more do not have the capacity to do so.”
The difficulty facing hyperlocals is that they are usually run as a micro organisation and reliant on volunteers and receive little or no funding. This means that they are unable to meet the criteria set out in order to receive the money like offering a pension scheme. Much of the criteria can only be met by larger organisations and inevitably they will get ‘free’ labour paid for out of the public purse.
Despite the lack of financial support  hyperlocals often lead on local news reporting and are frequently the only presence at courts and council meetings and will continue to do so, which begs the question, why pay large organisations the money to do what the hyperlocals are already doing? Why not pay them for their content?

A BBC press release describes the scheme as a ‘unique and ambitious partnership’.

The BBC press release reads as follows: “Plans including the creation of 150 local democracy reporters have now been given the go-ahead for roll out across the country, outlined in joint proposals by the BBC and the News Media Association last May.

Following months of detailed work and consultation with the providers of local journalism right across the UK , including the hyperlocal and local TV sector, the BBC and the NMA will now take forward agreed proposals which aim to invest in the local news media, increase coverage of public services and institutions and use the expertise of both the BBC and the local news sector for the benefit of all audiences.

“Alongside the creation of the local democracy reporters, the plans also includes the creation of a News Bank- including audio and video – and a Data Journalism Hub.

“Local democracy reporters: will be funded by the BBC and employed by qualifying local news organisations to cover councils and public services. The stories they generate will then be available for use by local news organisations and the BBC. The qualification criteria for news organisations has also now been agreed along with proposals drawn up outlining where they will be dispersed across the country. The ambition is that there will be a phased implementation of reporters, region by region, starting this summer and completing in 2018.

“NewsBank: will give outside online media organisations access to BBC video and audio material shortly after transmission. The NewsBank, which is due to become operational later this year will enhance other news organisations’ online offering as well as making BBC News output more accessible to audiences online.

“The Data Journalism Hub: will also be funded by the BBC with seconded staff from the local news industry, making data journalism available to news organisations across the media industry linking in with existing and similar units run by press companies and not-for-profit organisations. The first wave of recruitment into the Hub starts in the spring.

“Independent Audit of Usage: Local news content will be audited looking at potential crossovers between the BBC and other news providers. The outcome of the audit will inform a review of the BBC’s efforts to improve linking and attribution of stories and sources.

“All the plans will be funded by an investment from the BBC Licence Fee of up to £8million a year for the duration of the new Royal Charter and will be subject to joint annual review by the BBC and NMA.”

Neil Hamilton AM sits on the Culture Committee at the Welsh Assembly and has spoken out regarding his concerns that public money meant for improving hyperlocal – local democracy reporting is finding its way into the coffers of large organisations like Trinity Mirror.
Speaking exclusively to Llanelli Online on the subject Mr Hamilton said that he would be very concerned about the super dominance of Trinity Mirror. He said: “We should encourage new entrants to the media markets to ensure there is a proper diversity of news and hyperlocal should mean ‘Hyper’ local not just an arm of a National UK based News organisation, which has gobbled up all the minnows and swallowed them whole.”
Watch the full interview here:

Trinity from Llanelli Online on Vimeo.

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