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Protecting our democracy

The Future News Fund, which is open for applications until 8 December 2019, will fund and support bold and promising ideas that improve access to reliable and accurate news for communities across the country. Why do we need more innovation here? Because our democratic immune system is under threat.

Our democracy is fraying

Beyond Westminster and the political crisis that erupted as a result of Brexit, a quiet disintegration of democracy has been taking place. Public interest news, and in particular local news, is in crisis - impacting our democratic immune system.

The press is an important cornerstone to any liberal democracy, as they help communities stay informed, hold politicians to account and actively campaign for the things that matter to them. According to the Cairncross Review, between 2007 and 2017, national and local print sales fell by roughly 50 per cent. Original Nesta analysis shows that over 200 local newspapers have closed since 2005, with the number of journalists in the UK almost halving in that time. Already disadvantaged communities who have higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of education are particularly affected by this decline.

The decline of public interest news

Some people may argue that the decline in local news isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The rise of online news platforms means that more and more people use these their first point of contact for news updates. The Reuters Digital News report, published earlier this year, found that 74 per cent of UK adults said they looked at news online each week, with this number rising to 91 per cent for 16-24 year olds.

However, the shift online has mostly benefited national and specialist news. The online revolution is yet to fill the gap of local news. In addition, people mostly consume “entertainment” news through online platforms and social media, at the expense of content that holds institutions to account and campaigns for underserved groups - what is considered public interest news.

The result of this decline has had huge ramifications for democracy. Research by Kings College London (KCL) found that over half of our Parliamentary Constituencies - 330 out of 650 - were not covered by a dedicated daily local newspaper. This raises an important question: where do people go to find up to date information on the candidates during election time?

Polling we conducted with YouGov found that 70 per cent of people don’t know about decisions made by their local council, highlighting a huge gap in knowledge between individuals and decisions made about their communities.

The demise of local news also means that there is a glaring gap when it comes to holding local councils and institutions to account. Grenfell is one example where local residents raised concerns about the safety of their housing over a long period of time, and were simply not heard. Could strong local news have helped to amplify the voices of those campaigning?

A report by the Electoral Reform Society reveals that one-party dominated councils are at a higher risk of corruption (51 per cent) than those run by multiple parties. The Electoral Reform Society warns that not having robust news dedicated to properly scrutinising one-party councils increases the risk of corruption. It also means that the interests of local communities are easily sidelined by party politics.

Addressing this challenge

There are already initiatives working to address this challenge and to create innovative solutions.

Following the Cairncross Review, Nesta is running a pilot fund that is supported by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The Future News Fund, which runs from January-June 2020, will fund and support promising new ideas that help communities across England access reliable and accurate news.

We are particularly looking to support new innovations that can reimagine how communities could be more engaged in the generation of public interest news, and innovative ideas for the financial sustainability of the organisations generating and sharing this news.

The best ideas can come from anyone and anywhere, and often emerge in the most unexpected places. We’re looking for applications from diverse backgrounds and underserved communities who don’t feel their voices are being represented in the current system. We’re looking for ideas that can tackle this gulf in engagement between communities and the news that serves them, everything from finding ways to co-generate news with the communities themselves to improving trust in existing institutions.

This is only the beginning of a journey to regenerate and reboost our democratic immune system.The pilot fund will help us to test and understand the best way to revive public interest news and unearth exciting new approaches that disrupt the system. We can no longer operate with business as usual. We need to transform the system to ensure high-quality news, especially at a local level, to restore our democratic immune system.

If you have a bold idea that supports the revival of local news, make sure you apply or get in touch for more information.

Apply for the Future News Fund before the 8th December

Author

Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Director, Development & European Digital Policy

Valerie and her team focus on helping policy makers, corporates, entrepreneurs and society make the most of the digital transformation.

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