Credit: Photo by Tomasz Frankowski on Unsplash

A £2m UK taxpayer-funded scheme to support public interest news has been launched today (4 November 2019), following the recommendations set out by the Cairncross Review.

The report published in February 2019 proposes new strategies for 'high-quality', public service journalism to thrive in the digital era. Part of this advocated for an innovation fund run by Nesta, an innovation foundation.

However, the £2m pot available represents a fraction of the initial recommendation of £10m a year over the next four years. As it is a pilot scheme, director of development and project lead, Future News Fund, Valerie Mocker said the charity asked the Government to lower the amount for the fund to find its feet.

"With these innovations funds, it is best to test rather than create a big pot: test how it is set up, adjust the different tools to the problems and the types of organisations," she explained.

"We can use this to learn what works and what doesn’t with then hopefully a larger amount available [next year]."

For now, the call has made between £20,000 and £100,000 available for each news organisations to prototype new ideas and develop new business strategies. The amount depends on the scope of the project and level of need.

Innovation can come from anywhere - and it often comes from the most unexpected places.Valerie Mocker

Past local news initiatives in the UK have been criticised for only making themselves accessible to the largest media groups, leaving small news organisations on the bottom rung - and arguably the most vulnerable - without support.

Mocker told Journalism.co.uk that this scheme will reach hyperlocal and community news organisations.

"It was a deal-breaker for us,” she said. "We would only run this fund so long as it is open to everyone and it is a genuine innovation fund which is open to the best ideas.

"Innovation can come from anywhere - and it often comes from the most unexpected places. You don’t need the word innovation in your job title or business card to be an innovator."

She also promised that the Government will have no influence on who is selected as recipients. Nesta will devise a range of external advisors with expertise in journalism and digital technology to shortlist grantees and it will have the final decision on who receives funding.

These advisors will also remain anonymous throughout the application process as not to influence decision-making.

News organisations can apply for two 'tracks': a 'Prototyping Sprint' or an 'Accelerator'. The former will help recipients build and test new ideas with masterclasses and workshops, and the latter will help find early-stage investors from business-building programmes.

This format aims to address a common problem that occurs in many creative markets: information silos.

Cairncross herself has called for innovation in newsrooms since the report was published, and has identified revenue models to follow. But innovation has become a buzzword in journalism - to the point where it has become devoid of meaning.

"When we talk about innovation, we aren't talking about one specific technology but new ideas that will make a difference in the real world," said Mocker.

She added that innovation comes down to two key areas: re-imagining public engagement and discovering new, sustainable business models.

Mocker suggested for public engagement, this could revolve around the production and dissemination of news. This could, for example, give citizens a new role in creating news, experiment new ways to show the value of public-interest news, or try out fresh methods to reach new audiences.

Financial sustainability looks to different types of tools and technology to build public interest news and make it easier to access data. This could involve automating news processes or new types of collaborations with different organisations and sectors that lead to new business models.

"An intrinsic part of this is supporting things that don’t work [together with] what has worked. You then scale it and share it more broadly," said Mocker.

"We think there are a lot of things which haven’t really been tested, many ideas that hopefully this fund can support."

Deadline for application is 8 December 2019.

Get to grips with a framework for planning audience growth at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets

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