“I don’t have the answer to the future of news,” said Megan Lucero, director of the Bureau Local, speaking at News Impact Summit Cardiff on 15 October 2018.
She said that the Bureau is a collaborative newsroom that launched in the UK just 18 months ago, with the aim to help journalists "seek truth and to tell it with honesty and for the benefit of our communities."
Lucero, who previously worked at The Times, explains that the media industry is in a 'desperate' need of change, starting with new models for news.
“I had been running the data team inside the investigations unit and saw how our pursuit of top line figures meant we threw away all the local points that added up to the total. I thought about how every line in the database we built was a local story,” she said.
Lucero wanted to democratise the investigative process, allow local and national reporters to work together to achieve a bigger aim and have greater impact.
She explained that one of the problems is that local local investigative reporting is underfunded and scrutiny of power at a local level is threatened as a result.
Is it also more difficult to access information, because digitisation brought in a new level of complexity that often makes local stories inaccessible to those who cannot analyse data.
“These are challenges that need to be faced with new approaches,” said Lucero. “This is our industry to protect and ours to find solutions for. But journalists alone cannot save our industry.”
Thus the Bureau ended up building a network that was not just traditional journalists but included regional and national news outlets, local reporters and hyperlocal bloggers.
The network also includes technologists, teachers, lawyers, designers and community-minded citizens. It now reached 800 people who span over 100 areas across the UK.
“When we run open meet-ups on our investigations,” said Lucero. “We have councillors show up, mums have brought their children, veteran reports sit alongside a local lawyer and teacher.
“All bring their perspectives, knowledge and expertise to the table. Journalists walk away with greater information for better reporting, and others were informed about their communities in new ways.”
The Bureau also facilitates access to information for local people and local journalists to help them navigate through the maze of online data released by local authorities to increase transparency and accountability.
One of the examples of their work is a media campaign launched last year called #makethemcount which recorded those who died homeless in the UK.
“This began because reporters found there was no official record of these deaths. So, they took it up themselves.
"Nine months later the investigation reports 449 deaths, by collaborating with local and national reporters, charities, doctors and members of the public,” said Lucero.
The initiative led to a change in local policies on safeguarding reviews into homeless deaths, followed by the first central government guidance and an announcement by the Office of National Statistics saying it will be using the data to start producing yearly statistics.
“We’ve learned a lot about what a community of people can do to improve accountability and the greatest learning is that it doesn’t happen in one way,” said Lucero.
“For profit, non-profits, nationals and locals all [news organisations] could use new approaches to how we get stories, how we tell them and how we make our newsrooms sustainable,” she concluded.
How should news organisations adapt their business models? Find out at our Newsrewired conference on 7 November.
Free daily newsletter
- UK parliament told the media needs greater covid-19 data transparency
- Coronavirus, statistical chaos and the news, one year on
- Paul Connolly, investigative broadcast journalist, on the art of the interview
- Tip: Seven storytelling angles to spruce up your data journalism
- The Big Issue experiments with interactive storytelling to help readers explore homelessness