This is the third of four suggestions I made to the Cairncross Review in September 2018. [Here are the first, second and fourth.]
A fragmented UK journalism field with patchy infrastructure and support
The connective tissue of UK news and information landscape is not strong enough to spark a holistic and concerted response to the challenges it faces. It has been fragmented for a long time, and while there are laudable efforts to bring together the industry at various levels, such as the ICNN, the C4CJ, Hacks/Hackers and other forward-looking bodies, there is little funding available to strengthen these bodies to the extent that they can work across and support new initiatives across the country as a whole, or to launch new ones to meet unmet or emerging needs in the sector.
Philanthropic and other funders in the UK have supported high-quality journalism organisations and content, freedom of expression and information, media and press freedom, media development, media policy and related areas, including digital rights, across the world for twenty years or more. The UK has an extraordinary but curiously underplayed track record in leading international debate and practice on these issues, not least through the many media-focused civil society organisations and others based in the UK, but with a global reputation and scope. These include Article 19, BBC Media Action, Internews Europe, the Media Legal Defence Initiative, Index on Censorship, PEN, INSI, IWPR, the Rory Peck Trust, Privacy International, and the erstwhile Panos Institute. In partnership with UK-based funders, they have supported the public interest in media and communication around the world. There is a considerable well of expertise in these organisations and their networks that, until recently, rarely if ever connected with the local UK media environment, and was not seen as being of value in a UK context.
Similar institutions and/or expertise are required to restore the fabric of media and communication in the UK, and investment or funding must be set aside to support both policy work that will support and develop this new environment, and organisations that service, support and develop the infrastructure of the field.
This might also benefit from a joined-up support from across government — not just domestically within DCMS, but from internationally-facing departments such as DfID and FCO. Separating media from technology infrastructure from startups and small businesses from civil society from a press freedom agenda is counter-productive. DfID and FCO are promoting a press freedom agenda abroad, and are trying to take a holistic approach to their funding in, for example, their Transparency Trailblazer countries. Their support for media is seen as part of an overall strategy that contributes to the health of all the major parts of a country’s institutions of democratic governance. (In reference to the previous section, on innovation, DfID also has a head of innovation role, whose role it is to lead and catalyse innovative interventions by DfID staff, by mobilising resources, cross-cutting thinking and so on.) More interaction between the relevant parts of all three departments might spark further policy innovation in this regard.
Relevant inspiration for such infrastructure organisations or field catalysts — in addition to the work of the UK’s Centre for Community Journalism, for example — might be found among the following, for example:
> The Local News Lab (Democracy Fund, USA)
> The Lenfest Institute/Knight Foundation fund for local journalism
> The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium
> News Revenue Hub which supports local news organisations to upgrade and diversify their fundraising
> Digital Media Law Project
> Online Media Legal Network provided legal assistance to online media seeking 501c(3) status from a network of 300 attorneys across the USA. The website suggests that they will release the source code for the project to anyone who wants to build an online legal referral network
> the various types of organisations in GAMI — the Global Alliance for Media Innovation, including media accelerators, media labs, and innovation studios
> the Incentive Fund for Journalism (SVDJ.nl) which has conducted extensive research into aspects of news and information provision across the Netherlands
> the USA’s Whereby.us, which merges journalism, live events, civic engagement and lifestyle coverage in smaller cities to build sustainable, engaged journalistic businesses