Local news and the democratic deficit – Port Talbot

In 2010 we – Media Standards Trust – started a joint project with Cardiff University’s School of Journalism looking at whether a democratic deficit was emerging due to the decline of local news.

The project won backing from KESS – the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships, funded under the European Social Fund (ESF) Convergence Programme by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO). This, combined with contributions from the Media Standards Trust and Cardiff University, enabled us to set up a fully funded a three year case study in Wales.

We chose to focus on Wales because the position of local news in Wales is already far more precarious than in most other places in the UK. Over 90% of newspapers read in Wales are published in London and contain almost no Welsh news (from Institute for Welsh Affairs research). Unlike Scotland, Wales has no real national newspaper but a series of regional and local papers. Many of these have closed in the last few years, and those that have not have shrunk in terms of editorial resources. There are areas in Wales there is one editor editing three or more local titles at once.

In parts of Wales there are now no local newspapers at all. In Port Talbot, for example, the Port Talbot Guardian closed down in 2009. The South Wales Evening Post has a Port Talbot insert of a few pages. But otherwise there is almost no local coverage.

This is why we have chosen to study Port Talbot – to see what happens when town of 50,000+ people has almost no professional reporters left and no local news outlet.

Questions the project is trying to address include:

  • What evidence is there of a decline in local news gathering and provision?
  • If there has been a decline, where has it been focused? What ‘news’ is now not being covered that once was?
  • Is there evidence that news of significant public interest has not been reported?
  • How are people now finding out about local news?
  • Who is most affected by the lack of local news provision and how?

But the project is not simply about researching the problem. We also want to know whether the opportunities provided by digital media can address the news deficit.

So in addition to the research, we are experimenting with new digital models of local news provision, collaborating with both the commercial and public sector and closely involving local people.

The project is being led by Rachel Howells. Rachel has worked for more than ten years as a journalist, and is now one of the founding members of Local News South Wales, a co-operative of journalists based out of Port Talbot. She is doing her KESS-funded PhD on local news and the democratic deficit at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, working in collaboration with the Media Standards Trust.

Links:

Local News Port Talbot

The Kess Award (on Google Docs)

Coverage of the project on journalism.co.uk