This is a guest post by Dave Boyle, a experienced community organiser who is trying to revitalise local media from the bottom up. He believes that community ownership of local media groups can make them both profitable and accountable. We think his project is greatly welcome in these pessimistic times and we want to give it a platform.
Media Reform has talked about the idea of community ownership of media before, but a new series of free workshops will go into greater depth on the opportunities and benefits it brings.
The meetings, organised by the Carnegie UK Trust and Co-Operatives UK, are aimed at journalists currently working in local media and civic activists concerned about what’s happening to local media in their communities. A key goal is to challenge the dominant narrative of local media: that closures, amalgamations and impending market failure are somehow the fault of vast epochal forces like the internet rather than the end result of a period of debt-financed growth that has left accountants in control rather than journalists.
On the contrary, you can make local media pay – and you can do it for yourselves. Each meeting will feature a practitioner who is proving that local media isn’t a dying relic of a long-past age but still relevant, still important and – crucially – still profitable.
The series kicks off in London, 6pm, Monday June 3 at NUJ’s head office on Grays Inn Road, with two headline speakers: Paul Wood, Managing Director of the West Highland Free Press, and Helen Goodman MP, the Labour Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport with responsibility for media policy.
The West Highland Free Press is a fantastic case study of how community ownership in local media can work. Established as a radical paper in 1972, it became the UK’s first employee-owned local paper in 2009, when its 13 staff became its owners. This democratic structure has ensured that, unlike many other locals, it invests in quality journalism, enriches the civic culture, and remains a linchpin of accountability for public and private bodies in the region.
The ultimate goal of the series is not just to provide a platform for discussion and debate, but to plant the seeds of practical action. Those interested in starting their own projects can leave with a support packaged designed to help communities develop their own locally-owned media (either starting something new, or buying an existing title) – funded Carnegie and delivered by Co-operatives UK.