When local newspapers close, media companies get rid of reporters in rural areas, or journalists are deskbound and time-strapped, democracy suffers.
Local news matters. Research shows that the “democratic deficit” is a real thing – when communities lose access to quality local news, it impacts on their engagement with local politics and it decreases voter turnout.
It’s also clear that many people in Britain feel alienated from the “establishment”, including the media, and that many marginalised communities are systematically underrepresented or misrepresented in the press.
This all needs to change: hence the launch of Change the Story, a project set up by Bureau Local.
The Bureau Local is a people-powered news network with over one thousand members. We have, together, spent the past three years exploring how to set the news agenda and spark change from the ground up.
The team was set up by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in response to the crisis facing local newspapers, with more than 300 local and regional titles lost in the decade to 2017 and many more closing since. We wanted to serve local news reporters and bloggers who found themselves short of capacity, help them to cover strong local stories, and nurture a sense of collective support, morale and cooperation.
We did this by collecting big datasets (often through Freedom of Information, or by grassroots information collection across the country), cleaning them up and making them available to journalists to report on locally, and to show national patterns.
We were behind #MakeThemCount, the project that for the first time counted the number of people who died homeless in the UK, and #SoldFromUnderYou, which revealed the scale of the sell-off of our public libraries, parks and buildings, among many other stories.
Our experiment so far has been encouraging, showing that people care about and will get involved with local journalism if trust is built and the topics reflect their lives and concerns.
We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have joined the network who are not journalists but believe in the mission of local journalism – from coders to academics to campaigners to citizens who care about their communities and how good storytelling can improve them.
We’ve also carried out work around media sustainability and business models and want to continue to collaborate on this, to help make sure that journalism can survive and thrive in new ways in the wake of collapsed advertising revenue models. In a declining market, traffic has become king – and Kardashians get a lot more clicks than councils.
But we are only one part of the puzzle. The Bureau Local isn’t a solution to the challenges facing local news, it’s part of a solution that involves many people and projects. We want to listen to ideas just as much as to share them, and we value all expertise: knowledge, skills and experience.
So the next step is to throw this process open wider to even more people, and to work together to reimagine local news so that it is valuable to citizens and valued by them.
We would love as many people as possible to take part in this project with us. With a clear community around this issue, we might keep the conversation going and learn from one another.
We are doing this over the next few months by launching our Change the Story project. Please get involved! This will include:
- Publishing a pop-up newsletter so that a wider community can feed into this process and find out about the questions we are asking and progress we are making.
- Holding a gathering in Hull this summer to bring people together around this work and to talk about how news can be useful for everyone. Register here to attend.
- Running a three-month advisory group, made up of some amazing journalists and engaged citizens from all over the country. Find out more about them below.
Ali is a community organiser for Citizens Wales. “I am passionate about tackling social justice issues and bringing people into the organising process to take action on the issues that matter to them and by being involved with this group I believe will help me learn from others and get the message out further.”
Amber is a socially engaged artist and community organiser from Liverpool who also runs a local zine for North West creatives of colour, called ROOT-ed, alongside artist Fauziya Johnson. “I'm excited to be part of an incredible learning and sharing experience and I'm sure the knowledge gained will add value to the things that I'm doing in Liverpool.”
Nicola is a Belfast-based campaigner interested in people-powered and grassroots campaigns. “I'm looking forward to working with Bureau Local to ensure the stories of local people affected by homelessness, poverty and environmental destruction are heard.”
Ruth is a freelance writer based in Cumbria, but her experience includes a mix of editorial roles across publishing and journalism. “I write for and about students and money skills, and also work with charities that support young people and mental health. I respect the work the Bureau does and am often inspired by it, and think I can both learn a lot from and contribute to its projects.”
Shauna is a local reporter for Belfast Live and Mirror Northern Ireland, where she cover news, health, the environment, education and more. “I can't wait to meet everyone and put our heads together.”
Sam is a documentary filmmaker and writer originally from São Paulo, Brazil, but currently based in Dundee, where he focuses on non-fiction storytelling and is a sometime BBC The Social contributor. “I look forward to meeting everyone involved in the group and getting an insight into their experiences from across the country.”
Laura is a freelance writer and community activist, with an interest in themes such as loneliness, ageing and neighbourhood. “I am heavily involved in local media in Northampton, as a magazine editor and radio/TV/print contributor. I am excited to help shape the narrative around local media.”
Isaac is currently studying for a Masters in Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University and has a strong interest in investigative journalism. “I also work as a paramedic and have experience working frontline in the NHS. I am looking forward to being part of this group and helping shape the future of Bureau Local.”
Vic is a queer reporter at LGBT+ digital media publication PinkNews. “I’'m excited to meet the rest of the group, find out what's on the table for Bureau Local going forwards and see how issues important to the trans and non-binary community could fit into that.”
Sara is a research and policy officer at the Women's Budget Group, a feminist think tank that analyses the impact of government's economic policy on women. “I’m looking forward to connecting with people working to hold local authorities to account in different ways and contribute a gender perspective to the brilliant work the Bureau Local does.”
Robyn is based in Leeds and is founder of The Overtake, an investigative platform aimed at young people, as well as working at the Yorkshire Post. “I'm looking forward to meeting others, sharing my experience of managing volunteers and running an independent news site, and hearing about the expertise of other group members.”
Rhiannon is a theatre director from south Wales, making site-specific/ documentary-style political theatre. “I am excited to join this group as I feel like it could be the start of a movement of people owning their own media/stories/narratives. I want to empower communities like my own to find the power they have in telling a more honest account of their histories.”