Over the four years since the launch of Bureau Local, we’ve established a new wave of journalism – one that is people-powered, collaborative and community-first.
We started out as a solidarity project, working together with journalists, tech experts, community organisers and active residents to respond to the local news crisis. That meant sharing public interest investigations, open data and community mobilising projects to bring accountability to our communities.
Building a collaborative practice for equitable journalism and sharing resources has been vital to delivering information to communities and connecting the dots to spark local and national change. We’ve shined a light on thousands of hidden home care deaths during the pandemic, the local council funding crisis and the impact on workers being paid below the minimum wage.
But it has not been enough.
The past four years have also laid bare the deep wounds in our industry. The business model for commercial – instead of public – gain is not working. Newsroom closures, journalist job losses and consolidation measures have hit the sector hard and our communities harder – most UK communities no longer have a daily or regional newspaper to serve them.
Our industry lacks plurality, with four publishers accounting for 73% of our local publications. Journalism also continues to lack diversity and plays a significant role in perpetuating and amplifying systemic racism and inequality. I’ll always be struck by a collaborator who told us: “I don’t see many people like me on the news, but I’m quite happy about that. I don’t trust the news trying to tell our stories”. Another said that traditional media happens in “a completely different world” from the one in which they live. Journalism felt like part of the problem their community faces, rather than a potential solution.
Last year, we responded with an initiative that invited our network and a wider advisory group from across the UK to “change the story” of our industry with us. The project culminated with a chorus of voices speaking out about the media’s lack of relevance, representation, accessibility and trust and the outright harm inflicted on our communities.
We acted, hosting public events and making collective commitments to Decolonise the News and create News You Can Use. Crucially, the initiative also produced an open manifesto for a People’s Newsroom, which was co-created with our network and wider community. It has become the Bureau Local’s reporting mandate and the spark within our organisation to take a greater step in the fight for the sustainability of community journalism.
We now know we need an ambitious intervention for the growth, diversity and sustainability of public interest newsrooms if we want a future where equitable local journalism exists. Communities consistently tell us that they want to tell their own stories. We must focus on unleashing community power and then look to reimagining journalism as a tool to get there. It is not enough to just do journalism from the ground up – we need to build newsrooms that way too.
That’s why we are launching The People’s Newsroom initiative.
We’re setting out to support people to unleash community power through journalism that reflects them, serves them and sparks positive change.
We want to redefine journalism – who it’s owned by, made by and who it serves. We want to support the many communities failed by the media or who have no news provider to inform them, represent them or adequately reflect their experiences. We want to build an industry that’s representative of all our communities by supporting people with everything they need to create newsrooms that belong to everyone, redress harms and grow local power.
These aren’t aims that can be met by simply adapting traditional newsroom structures or replicating top-down journalism models. Instead, this new generation of newsrooms must be created by, with and for communities. We need a runway that is accessible to all so that the ownership and running of our media can be expanded and diversified. We need a pathway, a shared infrastructure, to get us there.
To do this, we’re building a coalition of people and organisations to co-create an inclusive framework for community journalism to thrive. We’ll be exploring:
- A new pipeline into media ownership. Hands-on startup support to design innovative journalism initiatives and invest in community newsroom leaders traditionally marginalised by the media.
- Shared back-office support (legal, operational, production) to lower barriers to entry and share costs and technology.
- Editorial resources to help support the running of equitable community newsrooms that serve the public interest*.
The Bureau Local already has a track record in this. We share public interest projects, localised data and collaborative manifestos, community reporting templates, and host open newsroom and story clinic engagement events, but we plan to expand on this and partner with other public interest organisations to share resources and respond to needs.
To build the programme, we want to collaborate with those who’ve successfully set up community newsrooms, those building them as we speak and those aspiring to do so. We want to hear from newsrooms, organisations and funders who want to collaborate on this project and help us all succeed together. Sound like you? Please join us.
Header image: The Bureau’s Shirish Kulkarni (left) and Megan Lucero (right) with EYST’s Shazia Ali at a People’s Newsroom meetup in Swansea. Credit: TBIJ