Nineteen UK news organisations will receive government funding through The Future News Fund to explore and secure new business models.
The £2m fund was announced following the recommendations set out by The Cairncross Review into a sustainable future for public service journalism. It is run by innovation charity Nesta and funded through the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
From 178 news organisations that applied, 17 have already received funding and two more will be announced in the coming weeks. The highest individual amount shelled out, so far, was £70,000.
According to Nesta, half of the funding will go to grantees, one-quarter is spent on workshops and events, and the other quarter covers general costs of running the programme. The total amount given to the grantees so far is about £855,000.
Dame Frances Cairncross, the author of the review, shared her thoughts on the Future News Fund in an e-mail for Journalism.co.uk.
"I think the government's response to the Review falls short - though perhaps not 'far' short - of what the Review advocated to help public interest news to survive. A single body - which I envisaged as an Institute - with government backing, but strong measures in place to minimise government influence - is needed to coordinate and drive support, innovation and the transfer of good technologies. It will always be impossible to remove government influence entirely from this field, whatever structure is chosen, as the government’s approach to the BBC makes clear. But the grant to Nesta was a hopeful start, and maybe with time, something along the lines advocated by the Review may begin to take shape."
The funding aims to put grantees on a path to discover new, sustainable business models through two tracks: a 'prototyping sprint' or an 'accelerator'. The former will help build and test new ideas with masterclasses and workshops, and the latter will help find early-stage investors from business-building programmes.
To find out how the money will help public service journalism, we spoke to some of the recipients about their plans for the future.
Driving membership through diverse media
From a blog set up in 2014 to an £11,000-crowdfunded membership platform in 2016, Black Ballad is an online publication which tells stories of Black British women.
While it had previously commissioned stories from as far as Scotland, reporting from outside of its base of operations in London proved a key challenge for the small editorial team of three. When the Future News Fund became available, it seemed like the perfect solution.
"We were discussing this for about a year, asking: How do we get into these areas and communities?" said Tobi Oredein, founder, Black Ballad.
The publication has received £70,000 to take its reporting outside of the capital. The money will be used to help staff go full-time, hire temporary regional editors, commission more stories from around the UK, and meet more readers through the events bundled into membership.
The money will also be used to do in-house research on the experiences of Black British women, which directly informs longer-term coverage of, for example, political attitudes outside of London.
"This will help us create the data points that illustrate how these experiences are told," said Bola Awoniyi, co-founder, The Black Ballad.
There is an abundance of stories on Black British women's experiences in the workplace and around mental health, Oredein explained, but they are too often missing from mainstream news coverage. In areas where BAME representation may not be as high as in London, she said, these voices need to be heard.
By branching out into areas such as Birmingham, Merseyside or Bristol, Black Ballad aims to grow membership and secure a more sustainable future.
Citizen-powered Freedom of Information requests
Non-profit organisation mySociety has run the UK's Freedom of Information (FOI) service WhatDoTheyKnow for more than 10 years. Traditionally supported by a mix of philanthropic grants and commercial income, it is now moving to a model where its services are financed mostly by user subscriptions.
The Pro version will operate as a £10/month subscription for journalists and other media professionals. Community members will not need a subscription to access the Projects feature, which allows newsrooms to provide citizens with access to sets of requests and responses, enabling them to make and manage requests and help turn the responses into a data set or story.
MySociety has received £70,000 grant to develop WhatDoTheyKnow Projects.
"We know from feedback that journalists, campaigners and members of the public want to collaborate on FOI driven stories but at the moment they can’t easily work well together," said Louise Crow, head of project development, mySociety.
"We want to allow teams of journalists, citizen investigators and others to source material for stories through FOI requests, and to analyse the information released, in a transparent, crowdsourced and community-driven approach.
"This will make it significantly faster and easier for journalists to use FOI, help bring readers into the reporting process, result in more and better public interest news stories, and contribute to an increase in public trust in journalism."
The project uses the open-source platform Alaveteli to facilitate collaborative investigations between journalists and citizens around the world.
Encouraging the community to join co-operative media
For The Manchester Meteor, a co-operative regional media organisation, the £25,000 injection will fund two outreach events a month over the next six months.
Seeking an alternative to traditional local media ownership, its members have a stake in the news organisation and have their say in how it is operated.
For now, the Meteor relies on voluntary work to produce its editorial but it seeks to have more reporters on the books.
"This fund is going to help increase our reach and visibility," said co-editor, Conrad Bower.
"We have to find an alternative to the mainstream advertising model because it is dying a death."
The £1/month membership alone will not secure its future. Continuing to produce sponsored content with selected organisations will be crucial to its future and the outreach events aim to secure more agreements.
Connecting with other organisations accepted into the prototyping sprint, like Open Democracy and the Bristol Cable, also opens up possibilities for collaborative projects.
Shifting from free content to casual payment
Aiming to get readers more accustomed to the idea of paying for one-off online articles, Axate is using an online wallet. With its £70,000 grant, it will implement its wallet on four local, digital news websites; Barnsley Chronicle, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, and Windsor Express.
"Small publishers do not have the in-house expertise to rethink products and analyse data, all of which is critical to success," said Dominic Young, CEO, Axate.
However, it is not as simple as putting the wallet on the platform and expecting readers to pay. The 90-day programme will test the micropayment solution on the websites, with specific targets about which articles will prompt a payment request.
"If you’ve got a free product and want to put a price sticker on it, you can do that, but it will fundamentally change your relationship with your readers," he continued.
"Local readers are prepared to pay for content they value. They highly value local coverage: crime, courts, councils and their local sports team. The idea is to put publishers on a path to creating paying consumers."
The full list of grantees: #ThisMuchIKnow (£60,000), Axate (£70,000), Black Ballad (£70,000), The Bristol Cable (£41,143), Entale (£50,000), Glimpse Protocol (£50,000), Hashtag Our Stories (£40,000), The Manchester Meteor (£25,000), Media Trust (£65,000), mySociety (£70,000), New Internationalist (£30,000), Open Democracy (69,800), Our Economy (45,000), PressPad (£40,000), Shout Out UK (£30,000), Tortoise (£50,000), W.T. Social (£50,000). Two more organisations are still to be announced in the next few weeks, bringing the total grant amount given directly to grantees to around £1m.
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