Last year I applied, unsuccessfully, to Nesta’s ‘Future News Pilot Fund’. The purpose of the fund was to support innovation related to Public Interest News.
Public interest journalism/news is:
- About matters that concern society as a whole, including those who have been historically or systematically under-represented in society or by power
- Produced by people and organisations that are editorially and functionally independent of political, corporate or other interests (even if they receive some funding or support from such sources)
- Committed to the pursuit of truth, according to the abiding and emerging values and ethics of journalism, including accuracy, fairness and balance.
Public interest news plays a vital role in empowering citizens, strengthening democracy and holding leaders to account. But the way we consume news is changing, and we need fresh new ideas to fund and produce engaging stories that matter to communities.
Nesta will be supporting a diverse group of exciting projects through the Future News Pilot Fund, which are testing out new ideas that either reimagine engagement with audiences or develop new ways to financially sustain news production.
The Future News Pilot Fund will be open to anyone with promising new ideas for how public interest news, especially at local level, could be produced, sustainably run and disseminated. The best ideas to address the public interest news challenge will not just come from inside the established industry and we want to support a wide variety of organisations to take part.
Before I continue, I would like to offer some commentary.
I feel that language and our assumptions (pre-conceived notions of meaning and application) around its usage can often create limiting conditions for thought and creativity. In this way language itself sets a trap for the creative thought and action which could otherwise emerge.
To journal, a journal and journalism are all related around a sense of ‘recording and making available’ information for different purposes.
I’m aware that funding often comes with very strict definitions but I’m also aware that funding should be far more flexible in how it works. If you’re looking for highly creative or innovative ideas these tend to not fit into existing expectations or bounded definitions. They can operate between things, sidestep existing barriers or even subvert logics. Their unexpected nature can be how they tackle the problem at hand.
Artists, inventors and innovators can be quite comfortable in this kind of unexplored territory.
It isn’t like there’s no map to assist or compass to guide.
The multiple meanings and possibilities of; to journal, a journal and journalism can just exist on the map as places or connected concepts. These can also be explored from multiple perspectives and associations. It’s there upon the unexplored terrain that; not knowing, imagining, learning, intuiting and understanding can all come together in an exploratory process.
Sometimes it’s the addition of an entirely new set of logics, knowledge or experience (diversity/transdisciplinary) which simply open up new possibilities for solutions or answers.
The terrain being explored is multiplied.
Outsiders haven’t yet fallen into the trap set by the experts’ language or the practices within their domain.
The experts’ conventions say that there is only one way forward and that all other routes have been tried before and are not worth travelling.
But, as we see in almost every area of society and science this is simply untrue. There are breakthroughs happening everywhere and some have their roots in breaking through the chains of language, thinking and belief first.
Perspective matters but our perspectives are limiting.
When we bring, for example, a network of organisations together who all possess a professional understanding (a shared perception, perspective, vantagepoint or valuing) of what Public Interest News is then they may not be able to see the problem from enough angles to get a clear understanding of the problem or the context.
The temptation can be to identify a once proud industry in decline and decry and bemoan the situation. It’s not as if that isn’t the truth, but there is more truth.
- Times do change and industries were never been built to be adaptive.
- Much of the machinery of society has been conceived, designed and constructed to keep repeating itself.
If this is the case then maybe there are deeper questions to be asked?
- What are the needs of society today?
- How can we explore this question and the meanings which arise?
- How can we bring our strengths, assets and resources towards the fulfilling of those needs?
- Finally, how do we do this sustainably and remain adaptive and in touch?
Ok, let’s get back on track.
I applied to the Future of News Fund with Socially.
For those of you not aware I have built a network platform which can potentially interconnect a large network of communities, civil society, the state and businesses into a collaborative system for generating social and environmental benefit.
This is called Socially Enterprising and it is a network of networks.
The way it engages with communities (in the place-based sense) is through another interconnected network of networks called Socially, which offer a dedicated social networking and blogging platform for places (cities, towns. villages etc).
These connected communities are then able to connect with the collaborative potential (plus members; strengths, assets and resources) which are available through Socially Enterprising. You connect communities first (Socially) and then you connect them to the latent potential within society (Socially Enterprising).
Applying to the fund gave me an opportunity to think more deeply about some of the problems I would encounter with the place-based platform Socially.
I have some big problems to solve.
I have zero content and I also have zero resources.
How on earth could I possibly generate useful amounts of high quality, locally specific, engaging and relevant content that is applicable to the platform’s purpose and… use the same model to open up the possibility of a national rollout?
I have a different context than perhaps the Public Interest News fund was interested in solving.
My context is less about preservation or journalism in a more investigative or democratic accountability sense, not that these are not important, or not important to me, it’s just that I want to engage, activate and empower communities with Socially and I don’t feel that those things are a particularly useful place to start.
I’ve been to a lot of council meetings and they’re not in any way engaging unless you’re really into that kind of thing. Most people aren’t into hours of boredom or banging their head into a brick wall over issues where their input has little or no influence.
It’s dull, depressing and quite possibly defunct.
That’s why people are not engaging.
I scratch my head as to why it counts so highly as a function of Public Interest News.
If you want the public to be interested and involved then you have to change how democracy works first and then connect the public to it secondly.
Anyway, my concern with Socially and Socially Enterprising is community engagement and activation. Democracy will have to get round to sorting itself out one day soon and I don’t see the point of pretending otherwise.
I guess the multiple meanings of ‘Public Interest’ is the key to my thinking.
I want to have content (news/media) which is if interest to local communities and has value and/or utility. I’m not interested in reproducing a local newspaper from the last century.
I’m interested in reinventing local media for connected, engaged and activated communities.
It’s got a job to do in these changing times.
I’d already done thinking and research so the application allowed me to bring a lot of my thoughts on how to achieve it together.
What I had already outlined for my own purposes was that there is a network of Community Media Organisations which exist all around the UK and that engaging with these could allow me to create a solution to my content problem.
Community media are any form of media that function in service of or by a community. It is the rise of all kinds of alternative, oppositional, participatory and collaborative media practices that have developed in the journalistic context of ‘community media,’ ‘we media,’ ‘citizens media,’ ‘grassroot journalism’ or any radical alternative to on and offline mainstream journalistic practices. In other words, it is having access to or creating local alternatives to mainstream broadcasting, like local community newspapers, radio stations, or magazines. Community Media aids in the process of building citizenship and raising social awareness. “Participation” and “access” are a large aspect in the rise of community media. Those who create media are being encouraged to involve themselves in providing a platform for others to express views. Community media is often given parameters when being defined by groups, but often challenges these boundaries with its broad yet narrow structure.
The kind of content I’m looking for which is community related and engaging as well as the skillsets, expertise and experience I need to be able to work with, already exist pretty much everywhere around the UK within Community Media Organisations.
Solving my content and scaling problems could really come down to a question of how to partner with these organisations and help fund their efforts.
For the purposes of putting the application together (and testing the water) I approached a number of local community media organisations and spoke to them about the fund and my ambitions for a new type of community platform.
The organisations were Somerset Film, Sedgemoor FM and The Sedgemoor Apple.
They were all interested and between them they were able to offer a diverse spread of skills and expertise that would be difficult to find in any one organisation.
To explain in a bit more detail.
As a network of organisations;
- they already produced and distributed community content.
- they were all deeply connected with the local community and aware of local need.
- there was a relationship available here with a mix of different strengths, resources and assets that could all work together to generate something new and additional.
- a wide range of their content was already well suited for Socially and could be repurposed easily.
- there was a need for additional content which created greater community engagement and activation around a number of strategic areas and I’ll explain that part later on. For now, it is just worth understanding that this additional content creation would be perfectly well suited to their organisations working together as a network.
Between them they could do pretty much everything I was thinking of.
This picture is a bit of a fudge but its here to help connect everything together. This is the kind of content and the kind of practice which I believe can unlock the potential of people and place.
- Most towns and cities all have an existing ecosystem of community media organisations.
- There is something unique and compelling about Socially which the organisations I spoke to all got and understood.
- I’m pretty sure the model could be replicated in other places.
- It may be some kind of franchise model which local community media organisations could partner on, adopt or support.
So how do you pay for it? Part 1
The big idea is to bring communities, civil society, the state and business into a collaborative system for social and environmental benefit.
Membership (subscription model) of this collaborative platform would provide an income that can then be utilised for the production of suitable community content.
I’m not going to explain the complete offering that will be made to the members here, but if you read my last post ‘Conversation: Help to Help Yourself (Somerset County Council, Somerset CCG/Fit For My Future)’ you should be able to understand the offering from the perspective of certain types of state organisations.
Conversation: Help to Help Yourself (Somerset County Council, Somerset CCG/Fit For My Future)
I was recently invited to briefly introduce Socially Enterprising to Somerset County Council.
These organisations are all trying to engage with communities and with Socially we have something that might do the job perfectly well and save a huge amount of public money while we’re at it.
Local civil society, community groups, and civic organisations also stand to benefit from membership and community activation and engagement.
Charities working in the region would also benefit in multiple ways from provision of such a platform.
Tapping the potential: Lessons from the Richmond Group's practical collaborative work in Somerset …
Tapping the potential is a learning report, researched and authored by NPC for The Richmond Group of Charities. It…
The potential for income generation through a subscription model should be evident and the user base across the UK could be substantial.
Do I feel that Socially Enterprising can fund all of the content?
I don’t think that we need to!
I believe that we would be creating a space for new forms of content/media which help people, communities and organisations get things done.
I think the potential of this would be compelling enough for civil society, government and philanthropic resources and funds to be targeted towards relevant content/media production.
By creating the space, the platform and the relevancy it becomes worthwhile the other sectors funding the production.
As a platform I think it would be a good idea for us to invest in content/media which really pushed at the boundaries and set the bar high for other producers.
There’s a bit of market creation going on here too.
The need for something new
I mentioned earlier that ‘was a need for additional content which created greater community engagement and activation around a number of strategic areas’ and I’ll elaborate a little on that comment here.
Community media organisations produce content with and for their communities.
It could be possible to extend this content production further outwards to include the larger needs of place and the place-based work being done by civil society and the state.
This is the story that we want local people and businesses to become engaged with through the Socially platform.
- We don’t simply wish to report on what they are doing like a newspaper as this contributes very little value to local activity or efforts.
- We want content that informs, educates and helps develop understanding and empathy.
- We want content which brings people into the story so that they become an active participant, not a passive consumer.
- We want content which operates to strengthen relationships and heal divides.
- We want to unlock the potential of people and place.
Currently local organisations, charities, local authorities and public bodies are competing with each other (social media advertising campaigns for example) in order to engage with local communities.
We believe that a thoughtfully crafted content strategy is actually much more sensible, cost effective and shifts the onus from clicks, views, costs and messaging to genuine relationships which are embedded within place.
It’s a sensible long-term investment with far better outcomes.
I’m going to include some of the Nesta application/work here as it may be useful.
Extract from application;
What is the problem you are addressing?
We are addressing how public interest news can be better utilised to benefit community development and foster stronger local relationships.
Currently communities, civil society organisations, and the state all work separately. They have separate websites, newsletters, campaigns and social media presences which all, to some extent, compete with each other.
The entire picture is fragmented and disconnected and replicated nationally and locally.
This isn’t helpful to communities and we believe that there is a better way.
What is your idea?
Socially Enterprising is a platform for community development and we make use of public interest news as the key enabler for this.
This is local media reinvented to support; active lives, civic engagement, health and wellbeing, community cohesion and personal development.
Our strategy operates through partnerships with community media organisations and existing public interest news providers so that the real story of communities is made visible.
In doing this we connect communities to themselves and place them at the centre of a story which they are continually co-creating with each other.
Through our platform we promote stories and examples of;
- people and families who are making positive changes in their lives.
- communities that are working together to improve local lives and the environment.
- businesses that are helping communities and local people to succeed.
We build upon this by providing people and organisations with tools to support them in working together to make a difference.
By using our platform communities, civil society, businesses and the state are able to;
- connect and communicate with each other.
- collaborate around local needs or aspirations.
- identify and make use of local resources and assets.
Our vision is this: communities coming together for the common good.
What impact do you hope to have on public interest news between January and June 2020? How will you measure it? (e.g. revenue increased, costs saved or percentage increase in reach to the community)
We make use of public interest news to bring the work of communities and local organisations together into a story in which people can become active participants.
As an example through our platform communities could see the work of Age UK to reduce loneliness in a way that makes a direct connection with where they live i.e. making a difference to local lives in their own locality.
This involves Age UK’s work and local people in a process of awareness, connection, informing, educating and social action.
Tackling loneliness is just one example and it’s possible to use our platform to bring home any story of people, civil society or the state working together to improve lives.
- Our platform can change the connection between communities and civil society from one based on advertising to one based on relationships.
- More people engaging with organisations whose primary aim is to bring about change.
- Greater awareness of local conditions, people’s lives and social need.
To fully understand our effect we would need to work with stakeholders to help evaluate our pilot alongside their own efforts and internal metrics.
Suitable stakeholders could include; Local authorities, Somerset CCG, Spark Somerset, The Richmond Group of Charities
Within the early stages of the pilot we would need to know who these stakeholders will be. This would inform many important aspects of the design of the pilot including; working relationships, content strategy, and measurement and evaluation.
What stage of development is your proposed idea?
Idea that’s been developed but needs to be tested in the real world
How does your proposed solution compare with others being used? What makes it unique/different?
Socially Enterprising has been designed to meet the self-identified needs of people and place as well as contributing towards multiple national and local governmental agendas.
- We tell a story of communities becoming confident and doing things for themselves.
- We show how local people and businesses are actively making a difference to people’s lives through their own ideas and projects.
- We use a wellbeing lens (5 Ways to Wellbeing) to connect people to events and activities that are healthy and fun things to do and get involved with.
- We want people, organisations and businesses to get involved locally and we use real stories to show that by helping our communities it is possible to achieve great things.
Our approach works by interconnecting different; needs, disciplines, theories and practices to create a unified model which sits at the centre of our strategy.
We recognise that many types of development (Personal, Organisational etc.) can be supported at the place level.
This allows us to put forward compelling incentives for local engagement for any individual, organisation or business.
We Turn Problems into Opportunities
Our model allows individuals, communities, civil society, business and the state to work together to solve local issues whilst generating various forms of social value, and at the same time benefiting their own personal, professional, or organisational development.
We expand upon the assets based model to include the strengths, skills, assets and resources contained within ‘all’ of the UK’s; communities, civil society, businesses and the state.
It’s probably also worthwhile sharing the document used to communicate and work with the local partners who were involved in the bid as it expands on some of our thinking.
So how do you pay for it? Part 2
The document above mentions commissioning research into a Syndication Model for local public interest news.
I’m no expert in such matters hence my wish to engage with minds who are.
What I am interested in exploring is this…
There is already a huge amount of content/media out there which could meet many of the needs that communities and I have.
I understand that keeping a local community magazine running is not easy. Funding will always be a problem and I would like to investigate the possibility of 2 way syndication.
1. Socially will have a supply of locally relevant content supplied by the Community Media Organisations. This content could also be useful to local community magazines and their readership.
2. The local community magazine will also have content which is highly relevant to the local community that is making use of the Socially platform.
There is some kind of mutual exchange that could be facilitated here and both sides would benefit.
Does this make any sense?
Maybe it’s better described as some form of wider collaborative content/media ecosystem which Socially Enterprising may be able to help fund in some way.
I do have ambitions for a locally printed version of Socially as it ticks so many boxes for the local partners and platform subscribers. Plus, it crosses the digital divide and places the content right into the hands of communities where it is of most use.
But I have no wish to compete with, supplant or replace any local community newspapers or magazines. Independent community media is hugely important, vibrant, personal and in touch.
We fulfil different needs even if there is some overlap.
I want to help them in any way I can and if possible, allow many more forms of community media to flourish across the UK.
To summarize this section;
I can’t solve the funding problem of Public Interest Journalism but I can possibly create a new market for relevant content/media and help steer resources towards it’s production.
Community Media Organisations could be well positioned to benefit from this additional funding stream.
I want to avoid advertising of Socially Enterprising at all costs.
Creating a 2 way syndication is a way for Socially Enterprising and Socially to gain wide distribution, coverage and platform awareness.
It also creates another revenue stream for Community Media Organisations.
So far I have described my content/media problems at the local level.
I will also explain here that I need content/media for the main platform Socially Enterprising.
The platform connects; communities, civil society, the state and businesses into a collaborative system for social and environmental benefit.
The intention is;
- To make available the latent potential of society and place this within reach of communities.
- To make cross-sector collaboration much more common place.
- To encourage actions and behaviours which are pro-social across the whole of society i.e. they have an effect which creates social or environmental benefit.
Again, as with Socially, I have no content, zero resources and I need a strategy which can scale.
I feel that some of the thinking from Socially may duplicate over quite well.
There is a spectrum of content/media which starts at the news/engagement level and increases it’s value and utility as you move up the list (very similar to the diagram from earlier in the post).
One category of content/media would concern itself with… I’m going to ask you to think of it as Community Development in it’s broadest possible sense.
Much content/media is already being produced that fits into this category and it’s possible to just curate and reproduce this as you see happen in many blogs.
It may also be possible to engage and partner with the organisations who are already working in this area. Think; Power to Change, Locality, Stir to Action, CLES, the LGA, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation etc.
It would be the same mutually beneficial relationship that we would be looking to create as suggested earlier between Community Media Organisations and Socially.
It’s about applying networks in order to fulfil mutual needs.
Getting organisations collaborating around the needs of place is one thing.
Socially Enterprising is also about catalysing change across society and within sectors, businesses and organisations.
We may have a category called ‘Public Sector’ and within this we provide content/media which promotes and demonstrates proactive actions by relevant organisations.
Examples could be; place-based working initiatives, switching to social value procurement, experiments with Human Learning Systems, co-creation/co-design/co-production.
Another category could be ‘Business’ and within this could be; mental health first aid, peer networks for sustainability or innovation, supply line auditing, Disability Confident, Living Wage etc.
All of this content/media already exists. It’s just that it understands itself as separate and distinct. I believe that it can all fall under the umbrella/definition of ‘socially enterprising’.
We’re trying to bring all of these sectors and organisations together to help communities.
But we’re also trying to nudge them into changing their own behaviour and actions at the same time.
This is how Socially and Socially Enterprising work together to create a network for social, environmental and economic change with the intention of producing a society level of effect.
Being a Platform
- Allows us to strategically curate.
- Allows us to set the acceptable rules for content.
- Allows us to restrict content production/partnerships to organisations which meet certain criteria, for example inclusivity and diversity training of content/media producers.
I’m going to add a couple of sections here as it will just be nice to get a couple of post-its off my desk.
Local Community Media Ecosystems / Alternative Models
The work done as part of the Nesta application was concentrated on what we could do together as a group of organisations. We had to get on and do something within a short period of time. Conversations about what could be possible or how the greatest social value could be generated were not had.
The town where I live is not unusual.
- there are a number of community media organisations of some kind
- the local paper went into decline and well trained and experienced staff (journalism/photography) were laid off early.
- some of these ex-staffers continue with their trade either through local commissions and/or Facebook pages on a semi-professional/amateur basis.
These people are an incredible asset and they’re really well connected with local communities.
I’m not looking to reproduce the press of old.
Maybe there is some scope for a form of Community Newsroom that operated on a social enterprise model that could almost be a shared resource for local content/media requirements?
These ex-staffers would make great intergenerational mentors and guides.
There is so much wasted and unrecognised potential in local ecosystems and I feel that with the right thought something quite wonderful could start taking root.
Changing Institutional Behaviour
This probably belongs as a separate piece and I shall probably get round to it, after I get round to all the others.
Creating a content/media ecosystem — a network with a social purpose — could have additional benefits.
Large existing institutions such as the BBC have the kinds of budgets, expertise and resources (strengths, assets and resources) that most organisations can only dream of.
But these organisations can be slow to change or adapt
What placing these players into a collaborative ecosystem could achieve is that those strengths, assets and resources can begin to flow out into the ecosystem
The BBC doesn’t need to produce the content/media on our behalf. In fact it could be doing us a disservice if it did.
The most benefit for the ecosystem is for the BBC to adopt a role of capacity or skills development within the ecosystem.
As I said this really expands into a much larger set of thoughts and I shall attempt to revisit these as a separate post.
I’m aware of the Public Service Manifesto and how Socially Enterprising touches on many of it’s themes.
But Socially Enterprising is not a publicly funded body. We’re a social enterprise and our remit is a narrower than the scope of the manifesto.
I’d like to hope that our independence means we can get on with the job of creating something new and relevant to the needs of today without endless faff and political interference.
Public Service Media Manifesto -https://ia801504.us.archive.org/3/items/psmi_20210722/psmi.pdf