The Welsh Media Problem

Hannah Watkin describes the challenges faced by new entrants to the journalism sector during the pandemic. The image shows a newspaper being printed.

Shirish Kulkarni analyses the media in Wales and outlines why more funding of the same media is not the answer.

I hate to break it to you like this, but London media just isn’t that into us.

He’s not interested in us, he’s not bothered about our country and he couldn’t care less about how we’re doing. For the avoidance of doubt, London media would definitely identify as he/him.

He says he cares – we even got really excited when he came to visit that time, even though he was still just doing films about male voice choirs.

I guess we just always hoped that this time it would be different, but in the end he doesn’t really want to change. At some level we’ve always known it, but it can still be hard to hear. I’ll leave you to process that for a few minutes.

While you work through your feelings, I’ll explain how I found out what London media’s really like.

I spent more than twenty years working in all the UK’s major broadcast newsrooms, running the daily gauntlet of eye-rolls and casual racism every time I suggested a story about, or from, Wales.

And it’s definitely London media, rather than “English” media, because the coverage in the so-called “national” media is largely driven by people in London, for people of London.

Of course, it’s obvious how little London media cares about us, because it shows us every day.

On the editorial side, on almost every metric, journalism is demonstrably failing.”

Less than half of the “national” broadcast newsrooms have a correspondent based in Wales, and the newspapers are even worse – they don’t even bother with doing their own reporting, relying almost exclusively on Press Association copy.

But yet, we’re still expected to trust London media, and believe that it’s really committed to us. That is not how healthy relationships work.

The result of that dysfunctional and one-sided relationship is that, without a high quality, effective and economically secure Welsh media sector, there’s a huge information and democracy gap for the people of Wales.

That is a problem with deep and wide-ranging impacts for society and needs urgently addressing.

There are, of course, positive signs. The success of independent media organisations like Nation.Cymru and Voice.Wales has proved there’s an audience for Welsh national news services; and the launch of Newsquest’s The National is an obvious compliment to the work those outlets have been doing.

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We also have a growing local and hyperlocal news sector, with brilliant operations like the Caerphilly Observer and Cwmbran Life ably supported by the Independent Community News Network and the Centre for Community Journalism.

However, there is little evidence that traditional journalism is genuinely fit for the future – either editorially or economically. 

On the editorial side, on almost every metric, journalism is demonstrably failing. The collapse of trust in the media is an existential problem which threatens both the industry and society.

Last year’s Reuters Digital News Report found that just 39% of people in the UK trust even the news THEY use. If we can’t solve that problem, everything else is irrelevant.

On the economic side, much of the independent media work that’s being done in Wales is part time or “for the love of it” and relies on grant funding of various kinds. That’s brilliant people doing hugely admirable work, but it’s not really sustainable and definitely not scalable.

We can’t simply continue funding more of the same media, doing the same things, run by the same kinds of people.”

We need to approach the problem differently, because it’s clear we can’t just continue doing news the way it’s always been done.

I’m not convinced this can be done iteratively or by tinkering at the edges of current models.

Despite the positive signs in the Welsh media landscape, where are the genuinely new ideas, different voices or storytelling innovations? Systemic problems need radical solutions.

Editorially, that means creating a new journalism much more focused on the needs of citizens (I use “citizens” rather than “users” or “audiences” very deliberately), and using all the digital tools available to us.

As part of an R&D project supported by Clwstwr, I developed a set of storytelling principles I call the 7 Building Blocks of Reflective Journalism.

“Reflective” because they encourage journalists to think more consciously about how their work helps orientate citizens in the world, and also because journalism must better reflect the whole of the society it claims to report on.

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I found, for example, that citizens are crying out for much broader context than journalism’s obsession with breaking, or at least “moving” news allows.

We tested these principles through prototypes of new forms of storytelling, which we then tested with more than a thousand people.

The results were striking – people picked up more information in less time and reported that the most successful prototypes were more engaging, more convenient and helped them understand the story better than a comparable BBC news story. So, it is possible. 

On the economic side, there are calls for more public funding of media. While you’ll get no arguments from me that an effective Welsh media is clearly a public good, public funding is not a silver bullet.

We can’t simply continue funding more of the same media, doing the same things, run by the same kinds of people. 

“The people of Wales are crying out for journalism that reflects and responds to them in a way that the London media simply can’t and won’t.”

Simply put, too often the wrong stories are being told in the wrong way, by the wrong people.

Wales has particular issues with inclusion, and the Welsh media simply doesn’t reflect the diversity of Welsh society.

To justify public funding there must also be a responsibility to build better journalism that responds to wider demands for equity and representation.

Instead, we should focus our efforts (and funding) on reimagining Welsh media.

An Innovation Fund to support exciting editorial transformation, new forms of collaboration, or to encourage and inspire outlets led by people who are under-represented in Welsh media: disabled, neurodivergent, people of colour, LGBTQ+… frankly, the list goes on.

The future of journalism has to be collaborative, multidisciplinary, responsive to technological change and underpinned by a commitment to the needs of citizens.

It’s clear that the people of Wales are crying out for journalism that reflects and responds to them in a way that the London media simply can’t and won’t.

If we want to create a thriving, inclusive and sustainable Welsh media for the future, it will be built on innovation and transformation.

That’s where change will come from and that’s how we’ll build a new and better journalism that’s genuinely fit for the future.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Shirish Kulkarni is a journalist and researcher with more than 25 years' experience working in all of the UK’s major broadcast newsrooms. He also works as a Community Organiser at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

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