Thursday, 4 February 2010

Is no news good news?

Posted on This is My Truth on 4th February

As the panel considering the future of ITV news packed up and headed out of town last night, the word on the street was 'citizen journalism'.

All three bidders for the £6 Million pilot to provide Welsh news for the third channel promised to democratise news provision by opening up news gathering to the masses. Who needs professionals when you can have amateurs?

Of course it could all go pear shaped as the Tories have promised to unpick any contract signed if they win the General Election.

But regardless of the outcome an important principle has been recognised. Wales needs more than the BBC to provide a 'plurality' of news coverage, and if the market can't provide it then the State has a role.

But clearly it is not just broadcasting that presents a problem. Less than 1% of the population now read the Western Mail. The business model of the regional press is imploding across the world. As the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger noted in his very interesting Cudlipp lecture "the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place".

On Monday Sir Martin Sorrell, one of the biggest buyers of advertising in the world, suggested that governments might have to consider subsidising newspapers such as the Guardian to maintain a diversity of editorial viewpoints if their losses reached a point that would force them to close.

After all if banks are too important to fail why not newspapers?

I have little doubt that 'hyper-local' news will flourish in the digital age - as Rob Williams discussed in an excellent posting over on Wales Home. My worry is the all-Wales level. How can we sustain a democratic tier in the face of a profound information deficit?

As I've argued here before there's a case for looking at a Welsh equivalent of the Scott Trust – the not for profit foundation that owns the Guardian Media Group. A public interest company underwritten by the taxpayer that could safeguard Welsh news.

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