Silvia Rose explains the idea behind the Inclusive Media Development Lab, one of the government-funded pilot projects aimed at addressing key issues for journalism in Wales
Imagine a world without journalism. Without the circulation of stories, both at ground level and on a global scale, we would be at the risk of becoming unmoored, disconnected from the events that shape us and our society.
Unfortunately the news industry is currently at risk. Traditional business models which rely on advertising are not working. There is a lack of new entrants, deterred by the collapse of existing publishers. Representation is also a massive issue, with an all too familiar homogeneity dominating positions of power, especially in Wales. If we want journalism to continue, and for the sake of democracy this is arguably essential, we need to dream up new business models, ones that are sustainable, inclusive and reflect the world we want to live in.
One of the aims of The Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru was to improve Welsh-based journalism and address the information deficit. Our Inclusive Media Development Lab, an intensive business innovation weekend held in Cardiff later this month, is one of the funded projects set up to tackle these very issues.
The proportion of active news participants has fallen by more than 10% since 2016, with less than half of the sample very or extremely interested in news
Having journalism funded by the Government is always going to be controversial. However, there is a clear public interest in having a healthier, fairer and more economically robust sector, not just for the professionals working within it, but also for audiences.
The Reuters Institute’s 2023 Digital News Report found that on a global scale, the proportion of active news participants has fallen by more than 10% since 2016, with less than half of the sample very or extremely interested in news (down significantly in the last five years). And that’s not even broaching the business side of things. The UK has one of the lowest rates of people paying for online news, just 9%, a disheartening figure for emerging start-ups or individuals who are keen to work in the sector.
These figures are troubling, but they are also – paradoxically – windows of opportunity. Clearly, people are fed up with the status quo. Many of those working in journalism feel constrained by the way things are, especially those who come from marginalised backgrounds. These badly-served demographics are poorly represented in positions of power, and therefore unable to influence the systemic changes we so desperately need.
Inclusive Journalism Cymru was formed to be a shelter in this sometimes harsh landscape. Our mission is to connect and support those who have been excluded from the journalism industry in Wales by creating opportunities and facilitating a supportive network. We also acknowledge that we need to take bold steps towards change.
We don’t want to just respond to the problems, we want to implement structures that prevent those problems in the first place. The Co-operation Agreement funding therefore was the perfect opportunity to start building these structures. And so, in collaboration with the IWA and Media Cymru, and Norway-based company Startup Migrants, the Inclusive Media Development Lab came into being.
The Lab was initiated with two main goals in mind. Firstly, we wanted to build a critical mass of journalists from marginalised backgrounds and/or identities within the Welsh journalism industry. And secondly, we wanted to ensure they have the scarce but necessary skills, knowledge and experience to develop revenue and sustainability solutions for the existential problems facing the media sector. Telling stories is easy – getting people to pay for them is the hard bit.
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These are not goals isolated to Wales alone. Rather, they are widespread aims that extend to most journalism organisations across the globe. Why shouldn’t Wales lead by example and be part of a conversation that isn’t limited to our borders? We want to be true to who we are, to what makes us uniquely Welsh, whilst also looking outwards and claiming our international identities.
Building opportunities: the Inclusive Media Development Lab
We were attracted to Startup Migrants’ approach to building opportunities for marginalised communities across Northern Europe. Inspired by their three-day course in entrepreneurship, the Startup Preschool, we wanted to create something similar but pay particular attention to journalism, designing the programme to inform both Wales’ existing stakeholders and its new entrants, that is, to improve and develop the current structure in place whilst bringing in fresh ways of thinking.
The programme itself will be a mix of interactive workshops and talks, covering areas such as Entrepreneurship, Business Skills, R&D, Product Design & Development. Held in Cardiff design consultancy PDR, and working with their cutting-edge approach to design thinking, participants will be presented with a series of business challenges which they will focus on throughout the weekend. Drawing on their activities and discussions over the course of the weekend, each participant will apply everything they have learnt to pitch their business ideas on how to create a more inclusive industry.
It is not only the lack of exciting projects that can be a problem in our sector, but the short-termist approach that seems to pervade otherwise well-intentioned schemes.
Our special guest speakers were selected not only as experts in their fields, but as signals to the future of journalism, lighting up exciting new pathways in the sector. For instance, Gary Rogers, Senior Newsroom Strategy Consultant for Fathm and co-founder of AI-driven start-up RADAR AI, sparks ideas of what journalism will look like in a world of automation. Nafisa Bakkar, author of How to Make Money and CEO of the award-winning media platform Amaliah is a model of empowerment as a world-renowned business leader from a migrant background. Manjiri Carey, News Editor at BBC News Labs, is passionate about creating more diverse newsrooms and implementing healthier structures in the legacy industry. Whatever participants’ background or interests, our programme is designed to acknowledge their differences and help them feel like they have a place – transforming their unique perspectives into sources of innovation. Participants will have the chance to connect with these influential professionals, to share experiences and ideas, and build a sense of community and belonging.
It is not only the lack of exciting projects that can be a problem in our sector, but the short-termist approach that seems to pervade otherwise well-intentioned schemes. What’s the use of spending good money on programmes that will inspire people for the duration – a day, a week – but then leave them to fend for themselves, often in the same situation as before (albeit with some valuable contacts and a spring in their step). That is why the Inclusive Media Development Lab has built in follow-up support as part of the programme. Participants will have the opportunity to book sessions with our partners further down the line, giving them the time to let all the new ideas percolate and for them to have quality one-to-one debriefing, ultimately enriching their experience and integrating everything they have learnt.
Our theory of change
Being a pilot project, it is also essential that we evaluate it throughout, with a view to generating similar work across Wales and further afield. The question is, how will we know if we’ve done a good job? What does success look like? Back in May 2022 when we were just starting as an organisation, we worked very hard to develop our own Theory of Change, asking ourselves why we seek change in the first place, as well as how it is going to happen.
One of the goals that we set out to achieve was to consider the future as well as the present by creating the conditions for a more inclusive industry. Inclusion is at the core of everything we do, it’s our reason for existing, and so measuring participants’ sense of confidence and belonging before and after the Lab will be a key component to evaluating the project’s success. We want to know what opportunities they may feel more able to seize, what spaces they are more comfortable to navigate as a result of the programme.
It is vital that we adapt and find a new approach to journalism. If we carry on using the same outdated methods we will keep getting the same results. The Inclusive Media Development Lab is an example of what is possible when we invest in forward thinking. By joining forces with partners across Wales, the UK and Europe, we are able to present an innovative programme to foster a more inclusive and sustainable journalism industry. Participants, we hope, will leave feeling confident and inspired to improve structures already in place and spark new ways of thinking, whether that’s business models or product design.
Change is a long uneven road, rarely is it linear. We don’t expect to magically fix the deep systemic issues that are felt by many every single day. What we can do, however, is keep putting our energy – our funding, our time, our efforts, and our vision – into paving the way so that others in the future can walk along it with more ease, yng Nghymru and beyond.
Inclusive Media Development Lab will take place at PDR, Cardiff, 22nd – 24th September 2023
This week, we highlight the role of public interest journalism: why it matters, and what can be done to strengthen it.