By Tim Dixon
I’m heading to Wales on Thursday, January 11, to look, listen and learn as Cardiff University’s Centre for Community Journalism stages Building the Future of Community Journalism at the Wales Millennium Centre.
The free, one-day ideas exchange aims to “bring together community journalists, academics, policymakers, innovators and technologists to explore the future of the sector, celebrate its recent successes, hear from its most ardent practitioners, and share ideas, skills and tools to help build the next generation of community and hyperlocal news”.
It should be a good day – and a morale-boosting shot in the arm for those who believe passionately in local journalism. Although many in this new wave of pioneer publishers are taking their first steps into local news reporting online, via community websites, a significant number are also turning to good old newsprint. That is great to hear and I hope to meet them and share ideas.
There is a growing public awareness of the gaping hole that’s left in community life when the local newspaper closes down. Media commentators increasingly bemoan the ‘democratic deficit’ created by the demise of this grassroots journalism, accelerated by the disinterest shown by the traditional regional publishers. The loss of the View From series of weekly free titles here in the West Country has brought these issues into sharp focus in recent days.
Now is the time to harness the public’s growing disquiet at the loss of their local papers and start a conversation to see if there is still – as I suspect there is – an appetite for vibrant, committed local news reporting. Then we have to respond and deliver new local papers and websites that satisfy this demand. I hope that Thursday’s conference in Cardiff will be the catalyst for a renewed effort to seize the moment and build on the progress made by the community journalism pioneers who are already out there flying the flag and bucking the trend.
I’ll be evangelising about the merits of local newsprint journalism on Thursday. You may see me brandishing a placard bearing the legend, ‘Newspapers Made Easy’. I’ll be hoping I can share my experience in the regional press to help the new wave of print publishers bring their papers to market – and find out how I can publish my own title as well.