Reimagining journalism is difficult, but Wales is heading in the right direction, writes Dylan Moore
A report by the Wales Public Interest Journalism Working Group, of which the IWA is a member, was published on July 21 by the Welsh Government, setting out ten recommendations aimed at building a sustainable future for journalism in Wales.
And while there will inevitably be strong and varied views about its contents – as we should expect on an issue as vital to our common life as the quality of the information which shapes the way all of us understand and view the world – perhaps the key word is to be found in the first word of report’s subtitle: Towards.
Although public funding is seen as a key part of forging solutions to the complex challenges facing the news, there is recognition that the industry needs system level change
The paper does not shy away from the scale of the myriad challenges facing journalism in 2023 – the collapse of the local press; the dominance of ‘Big Tech’; changing patterns of news consumption; broken business models – nor from the fact that ‘many of the solutions are not easy to implement’. It does not pretend that the problems will be fixed tomorrow, but it does set out a clear direction for travel.
Its prevailing tone is practical and optimistic, opening with a vision of where we want to get to: ‘a Wales where all citizens have access to trustworthy, high-quality information and healthy debate about their own communities, local and national institutions, as well as the wider world, so that everyone can play a full part in democratic culture and decision-making processes.’
The report paints a picture of a future media playing ‘a vital part in helping to build and shape national and local identity, contributing to Welsh language, culture and a sense of shared history and a shared future, binding communities together, contributing to social cohesion and supporting the wellbeing of Wales’ people, now and in future generations.’
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But very few of the recommendations made in the report could be described as quick wins. Although public funding is seen as a key part of forging solutions to the complex challenges facing the news, there is recognition that the industry needs system level change in order to be fit for purpose as well as economically sustainable.
The report is designed to lay the groundwork for a series of long-term, strategic interventions, some of which will undoubtedly take years if not decades to bear fruit. The overarching recommendation made by the Working Group is the establishment of a Wales Media Institute, a body that would ‘have a broad remit to engage citizens, serve audiences and support and improve public interest journalism’.
If accepted by Dawn Bowden, the Deputy Minister who instructed the setting up of the Group in the first place, this new body would be independent of government and set up to raise funds and administer grants, including a contestable fund for new and existing news outlets, with clear criteria based on the needs of citizens and communities.
With this report, Wales’ public interest journalism sector has a roadmap that points in the right direction.
The report also emphasises the need for Wales to invest in the development of a more diverse and resilient journalism workforce and acknowledges that further research is required to identify the specific needs of public interest journalism in the Welsh language. In other words, there is acknowledgment that we are very much at the foot of the mountain. But together that word towards and the vision of what the destination looks like mean that Wales has the opportunity to turn a corner, and with the Welsh Government arguably the most open in the UK to involvement in the reform of public interest journalism, the potential is there to set a clear course in the right direction – one that other nations of the UK will no doubt be watching closely.
The Working Group has welcomed the small steps already taken by the Welsh Government in funding a series of pilot projects informed by our work, which include an inclusive media development lab taking place this September that will build on the work of Inclusive Journalism Cymru to create a more representative journalism sector in Wales. And while most of the media attention has been focused on the eye-catching pilot fund for a full-time reporter to cover the Senedd along the model of the BBC local democracy reporter scheme, it is the less headline-friendly research project led by Cardiff University to better understand the needs of media users in Wales that will provide a robust baseline from which future interventions can be assessed.
There are some things that Welsh Government can do relatively quickly, for example to guarantee that providers of public interest journalism can bid for public advertising and marketing campaigns, but even ensuring that statutory public notices are disseminated via a range of appropriate providers of public interest journalism in Wales – regional and hyperlocal, online and in print – will take time to allow news organisations to adjust.
The road ahead is long, difficult and complex and there is no point pretending otherwise. But at last, with this report, Wales’ public interest journalism sector has a roadmap that points in the right direction.
The IWA’s project on Media and Democracy is funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
This week, we highlight the role of public interest journalism: why it matters, and what can be done to strengthen it.