Our submission to the Cairncross Review

The Cairncross Review — the one set up by DCMS (the UK’s culture/media/sport ministry) to look into how to rescue the local press — closed its call for evidence a few weeks ago. They’ve likely got a few hundred to wade through, after which I think they’ll be published online for dissection.

You probably saw the (widely-reported) News Media Association’s evidence, with a focus on a proposed tech tax, levied on the big platforms. A number of other groups released their own submissions in a not dissimilar vein — e.g. the NUJ, the Media Reform CoalitionGoldsmiths — albeit with a wider focus on the public interest/benefit.

A number of submissions mentioned the issue of charitable status for journalism — an argument summarised in this article by leading academics Judith Townend and Steven Barnett. Will PerrinThe Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the Transparency Project, among many others, outlined in their Cairncross submissions why they think that it’s high time this was dealt with.

I also made a submission to the Review, and I’m sharing the main recommendations I made (lightly edited) here, and linked through in each case to the relevant bit of my submission. It takes a slightly different tack to many of the other ones I’ve seen (though these represent no doubt just a fraction of what the DCMS Cairncross inbox received…). I’ve worked in a variety of roles that mean that I’ve seen the journalism and media field from several angles — as a radio editor, a media development practitioner, editor of a human rights video platform, a digital rights advocate, a media policy analyst, a philanthropic grantmaker, assessor for a corporate innovation fund, and so on. So I tried to draw on that range of experience, to identify things that I feel are lacking or under-powered in the UK journalism environment…

Comments, brickbats, incredulity all welcome.

This submission draws on these diverse experiences to focus on the worsening deficit in quality news and information that affects many parts of the UK (a phenomenon not unique to the UK), and recommends 4 potential and partial solutions for the Review to consider.

In summary, these challenges and their potential or partial remedies are:

  1. that charitable status is complicated or prohibitively expensive to achieve for those in the journalism field for whom it would be most beneficial; this frustrates stated philanthropic interest in funding journalism of public benefit, and blocks greater media diversity, innovation and viability, and citizens’ access to information — [the Review should] recommend the formal recognition of the charitability of public benefit journalism in England and Wales. [Full text here.]
  2. the lack of coordinated funding for the transformation of and innovation in the journalism sector — [the Review should] recommend the establishment of an independent large-scale timebound innovation fund on a par with the Google DNI Fund. [Full text here.]
  3. the lack of infrastructure support to the journalism field in general, and for public benefit journalism in particular — [the Review should] recommend funding for field infrastructure and catalyst organisations to support the growth and resilience of the journalism field. [Full text here.]
  4. the need to understand how citizens (not consumers) experience the contemporary information environment in the UK, of which journalism is a part — [the Review should] recommend the establishment of a formal multi-stakeholder commission into the information needs of communities, and how these can be better met by journalism and other information-providing sectors. [Full text here.]


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