Work in Progress: 5th Feb



Work in Progress

News, thoughts and opinions about the world of local independent online media in the UK and beyond.

Philip John


I told you so!

Yes, I skipped Friday and there’s no way I’m doing a 7-days-a-week newsletter but it’s Monday and I have things to share! Let’s get into it…

The Morning Walk Podcast

Most weekday mornings I try to go for a walk and listen to media podcasts. This is what I like to call my stupid fucking walk for my stupid fucking mental health. While it works – which I hate to admit – I can’t convince myself to walk without reason so I listen to a collection of media-related podcasts to and from my favourite cafe. In this section I share what I’ve learned or found interesting.

Over the weekend I listened to many podcasts while driving around for 5 hours delivering t-shirts (I won’t bore you with the details) and a particularly interesting episode was Jacob Granger’s chat with Positive News CEO Seán Wood. What stood out was their partnership with Clear Channel UK to deliver the news via advertising screens. While likely an unachievable dream for most indie news outlets, it did make me wonder what other ways there are to distribute news. Are you doing anything unique like this to get the news into your communities?

As I catch up with the What Works back catalogue on my walk I listened to John Garrett talk about scaling up local news with his Community Impact newspaper in the US. Many of us in the independent sector sprung up out of necessity as the larger publishers scaled up to the point of withdrawing from the communities they purported to serve. Does Community Impact show a model of how independent local news can work at scale and serve their communities well? There are certainly some examples of scale in the UK already, with the likes of Social Spider’s four community newspapers coming to mind.

What’s Happening

  1. Tomorrow sees a webinar about putting communities first in election coverage, hosted by the University of Texas. It’s proving hard to sign-up for it for some reason but if I get in I’ll report back as it might include useful insights as we look at a likely UK General Election this November. By the way, did you know I’d started an effort for publishers to share their election coverage plans as well as possible candidate questions. Feel free to contribute!
  2. PINF’s Hani Barghouthi shares an update on their efforts to lobby Parliament on behalf of the UK’s indies as the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill winds it way through the corridors of power.
  3. Google has launched a new AI for journalists course which helps you understand what tools are available from Google to help you leverage AI in your reporting. Have you tried any of these tools, and are they useful to your newsroom?
  4. Following New York Time’s purchase of Wordle it has grown revenue from games and other non-journalistic sources. Local newspapers are no stranger to puzzles but is this return to the traditional a strategy to adopt for indie publishers too?
  5. What’s better – for-profit or not-for-profit? With that debate grenade thrown, I’ll let you watch Simon Owen’s interview with Cityside co-founder Lance Knobel (who I had the pleasure of working with to help set up Berkleyside a few years ago) about their journey from for-profit to non-profit.
  6. Freeing journalists from time-consuming chores is one way that AI can supposedly benefit newsrooms so it’s interesting to see one independent publisher in Cumbria receive a 48k grant to explore this very concept.

What is local independent news anyway?

Back to North America where LION – the organisation representing independent online news publishers in the US – has been pondering the question of what a local independent online news organisation looks like while beefing up it’s database to 1,601 publishers. It’s a question often pondered and can provoke some passionate responses. LION have settled on these criteria:

  • The site is devoted primarily to original, local news and information (a majority of coverage is through local, originally produced news)
  • The site is located in the United States or Canada
  • The publisher is digital-native and/or dominant
  • The site is editorially independent (privately owned and not primarily or majority-owned by a publicly traded company, newspaper chain, hedge fund or private equity firm, and/or political or religious institution. This can include public media if the public media is merged with an independent publication and the two are independently run and funded.)
  • The owners are attempting to develop revenue streams from their content

Would something similar work here in the UK, and while LION focuses on online could we broaden this to include print publications? Do journalistic standards need to be included? Does such a definition need to be set by an organisation like ICNN or PINF (who have a similar map)?

Random idea off the top of my head: could we adopt a process similar to Wikipedia to create a maintain a database of local independent news where the criteria and conversations are transparent?

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Until next time…

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