News Futures 2035 principal investigator Dr François Nel (above) convening industry experts for a meeting of the Journalism Innovation and Leadership Programme board in July

An "action-research" project into the future of UK public interest news has been launched by the Media Innovation Studio (MIS) at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). And it is calling for journalism stakeholders to be involved.

The News Futures 2035 project will hold three national roundtable events this year and next with one key question on the agenda: "how can we secure the supply of trustworthy, public-interest news in the UK?"

The roundtables will host 75 journalists, academics, policymakers and media-development actors across the three events. Anyone keen to attend, or simply receive progress updates, must submit their interest via this short form. The dates for those events are 13-14 October 2022 in London, 24- 25 November 2022 in Manchester and 2-3 February 2023 in London.

"Each of the three linked roundtables will progressively take us closer to agreeing on the key issues or drivers, and agreed future scenarios - those we want, those that are perhaps likely and those that we might want to avoid," explained the principal investigator, Dr François Nel, reader in media innovation and entrepreneurship, MIS, UCLan.

The agenda details for these roundtables will be outlined in a "scene-setting" paper to be published on the week of 3 October 2022. It will be ritten by Nel, Jeremy Clifford, former editor-in-chief at Archant and visiting scholar at the MIS, and Jonathan Heawood, executive director of the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF).

The project is supported by the Google News Initiative (GNI), and partners with the Society of Editors (SoE), Public Interest News Foundation (PINF), Independent Community News Network (ICNN), Digital Editors’ Network (DEN), Bloomberg, Reach plc and HMB Advisory.

Some of the partners will be particularly aware of the issues facing the UK journalism industry. Reach Plc journalists are currently threatening strike action against low salaries, the SoE's (now withdrawn) claims that the media is not racist or bigoted still live long in the memory, and pressure is on Google to roll out Australia-inspired deals with news publishers across the world that would see the big tech giant pay for displaying news articles.

Nel confirmed that themes of journalist salaries, diversity and inclusion, and relationships with platforms, will all be fed into the initial paper.

After the three roundtables have taken place, a final report aims to: create a shared vision for fact-based, public-interest news in the UK and beyond; consider the implications of potential future scenarios for those with a stake in the news industry; and catalyse networks among those who have the power to shape the news ecosystem.

Have we not been here before though? In 2018, Dame Frances Cairncross published The Cairncross Review: a sustainable future for journalism. It painted a bleak picture of the media industry, expressing deep concern at newsroom job cuts, closures of local newspapers and the impact this would have on democratic and civic engagement.

Since then, newsroom pressures have been compounded by the cost of living crisis and rocketing newsprint costs in the UK, alongside global crises like covid-19 and climate change.

As a result, the news industry is still battling with declining print sales and print advertising revenue, which is falling faster than digital revenue growth can counter-balance. In the UK, people are still largely unwilling to pay for news, even less so among the under-30s. Misinformation across social media, growing news avoidance and diminishing trust of the media are all ongoing headaches.

Despite this, hyperlocal and independent publications are filling the void left by closing corporate-owned brands. Elsewhere, big publishers are finding joy in moving operations online, with more than half of media leaders saying revenue has increased over the past year.

The Caincross Review called for a number of governmental interventions, which the News Future 2035 project's own announcement acknowledges are mostly still to be acted on. In other words, discussions and reports have already been tried and tested. Why should UCLan's project fare any differently?

"Cairncross was an independent review that produced some remarkable insights into the current situation and very helpful suggestions for the future," says Nel.

"What didn't happen through that process was bringing role players - inside and outside the media - together to ask: what kind of future do we want? What kind of future don't we want? We're aiming to do that and to foster a constructive network to think about the implications of such futures - and how to take constructive action together."

Join the news channel on Telegram to receive news and updates straight to your phone every week

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).