JOURNALISM in Wales is in crisis according to Pamela Morton, NUJ organiser for Wales.

Responding to the report ‘Read All About It – Inquiry into News Journalism’ by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee, Pamela said: “The Welsh press is in crisis from a lack of proper funding in quality journalism and a lack of media plurality. The NUJ welcomes many of the committee’s recommendations, many of which reflect the union’s submission to the inquiry. Too often, too many Welsh communities are not having their voice represented in the Welsh press and on news websites.”

The Welsh Government has made £200,000 available to support hyperlocal journalism in Wales but they have not yet come to a clear decision as to where that money will be spent.

Hyperlocal journalism is a growth industry however many are struggling to become self sustaining and find themselves as the poor relation to the larger media companies struggling for advertisers and funding.

One lifeline could entail a change in legislation, which would allow online hyperlocals to be paid to carry public notices. The rise of hyperlocals is largely as a result of many familiar news outlets moving out of the communities they once served leaving a void of news.

Bethan Sayed AM has claimed that Wales has been disproportionately affected by the drop in newspaper circulations which have not been offset by digital news, job losses in the media industry and newspaper mergers and closures.

The AM said: “We have considered whether some model of direct support from government for the provision of commercial journalism should be developed. There are clear difficulties with this, not least to ensure independence and editorial freedom. Despite this, the precarious state of news journalism in Wales is such that serious consideration should now be given to some way of supporting public interest journalism in Wales.”

A large number of independent hyperlocals already exist across the U.K. and are filling the void where the larger news outlets have left as a result of cost cutting and moving of offices. Many are members of the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) and work in collaboration with other organisations including Cardiff’s School for Community Journalism (C4CJ).

Bucking the trend in journalism: Llanelli Online in full flow

The report’s recommended that the Welsh government should:

  • Formally support public interest journalism.
  • Consider establishing publicly-funded arm’s length news hubs, in light of the lack of market viability of local news provision in many areas of Wales.
  • Nurture and encourage hyperlocals to encourage new entrants to the market.
  • Use the £100,000 funding in 2018-19 and 2019-20 for a contestable scheme that is available to both new entrants and to support innovation and sustainability among current operators.
  • Carry out a full evaluation of the success of the £100k funding after the first year to inform decisions about how the funding should be used in future.
  • Carry out an audit of its, and local government’s, spending on advertising statutory notices.
  • Consider how Google and Facebook can support news provision in Wales.
  • Reconsider its decision not to establish an independent media forum so it can investigate sustainable business models for news journalism in Wales.
  • Review the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service.
  • Commit to a continued investment in Welsh language journalism at the current level at least.

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As early as 2015, reports have been urging the Welsh Government and the BBC to give hyperlocal journalism the funding and support it needs to flourish and be a force for good in local communities. That pressure has begun to mount once again, with a National Assembly Committee calling on the Welsh Government to start tackling this issue.

Chairing the Committee, Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Sayed, said: “We believe the Welsh Government should consider the importance of a diverse media sector as a strategic priority and investigate ways to support it either directly or indirectly.”

Suggestions from the committee ranged from providing financial support to local publications (both online and offline) as well as calling on tech giants to find ways to strengthen the reach of local Welsh news websites in such a competitive space. News for the people of Wales is becoming more and more distant from communities where there aren’t enough local publications and reporters to fill the gaps. We gave our own contribution to this committee.

Council meetings, profiles of local candidates during elections, and campaigns started by residents are either not getting coverage at all or are relying on social media presence to get the word out. Councils are able to do as they wish with barely any scrutiny if there is no local investigative reporting to unearth any wrongdoing.

Making sure there’s news that people can trust is also a major issue. According to the Reuters Digital News Report 2018, trust in UK news has been falling continuously, with only 42% of British people trusting news overall as of this year. At the same time, use of hyperlocal websites has been gradually increasing, with people actively seeking out and placing importance in news about local issues and community focused events.

Despite the clear appetite for this kind of reporting, it remains to be seen as to whether there will be consistent long term support for Welsh hyperlocals in the years to come.

The Plaid Cymru AM has given an interview to Emma Meese from the Cardiff School for Community Journalism (C4CJ) and representative of the Independent Community News Network (ICNN).

You can watch the full interview here:

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