The Future News Pilot Fund: Meet the grantees

www.nesta.org.uk/feature/future-news-pilot-fund/
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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 fund came as a recommendation from the Cairncross Review and is financially supported by the Department of Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS).

The fund, which runs from February until June 2020, will give financial and wrap-around support across two tracks: (1) the innovation sprint run by Nesta for testing and prototyping news ideas, and (2) the accelerator track for commercial businesses run by Bethnal Green Ventures.

As well as supporting these novel ideas and approaches, the programme is aiming to share as many lessons as possible about what works well and what doesn’t when it comes to innovating in the public interest news space.

Meet the Future News Fund pilot cohort:

Axate

Amount awarded: £70,000

Axate believes in order to be financially sustainable, digital news publishers that support the public interest need to adopt new mechanisms and behaviours to drive paid engagement with their audiences. Axate will create a documented programme and develop its existing product to help any local publisher implement the Axate casual payment system, begin the process of developing reader revenues and learn how to drive scalably upwards. Over a 90 Day Programme – supported by Axate and Wilson Fletcher – it will take at least three publications through to material and measurable increases in their revenue and engagement.

Black Ballad

Amount awarded: £70,000

The lack of diversity in media and the decline of local news work together to silence the stories, experiences and conversations of the black community outside of London. Black Ballad, a subscription-first media brand for black women, wants to start solving this by using its unique blend of content, events and investigative data journalism to uncover, connect and amplify the hidden experiences of black women outside of the capital.

The Bristol Cable

Awarded: £41,143

The Bristol Cable is a reader-owned co-operative, shaking up local journalism and putting Bristolians in charge of their media. At the last AGM, members voted in favour of the Cable editorial team deepening its community engagement. And that's exactly what they will be doing through the Future News Pilot Fund.

The organisation will test ‘open newsrooms’, relocating its media team into the communities they want to serve to exchange ideas with people face-to-face – generating public interest reporting, building trust and engagement in the process. They’ll also trial ways for their 2,100+ members to digitally collaborate with journalists in their own areas of expertise and lived experience. These forums and conversations will help to source stories, fact-check content, and feedback on articles – before and after publication. Finally, The Bristol Cable is looking forward to sharing lessons with other like-minded media organisations so we can support the wider media ecosystem.

Entale

Amount awarded: £50,000

Entale is a podcasting platform that aims to turn audio into action. Using a combination of AI and manual curation to showcase relevant contextual content from your favourite podcasts, the Entale smartphone app allows you to dive deeper and engage further with your content.

Currently monetisation models for podcasting rely largely on advertising or sponsorship, which in turn require large audiences – limiting the commercial viability of sustainable monetisation for smaller audiences or topic areas that may be under-served by mainstream media. Entale's project with the Future of News Pilot Fund aims to explore alternative distribution and monetisation mechanisms for 'public interest podcasting'.

Glimpse Protocol

Amount awarded: £50,000

Glimpse Protocol establishes an ethical and private advertising platform, guaranteeing the privacy of consumers' personal data while significantly improving revenue to publishers. Glimpse Protocol is a new privacy technology, based on cutting-edge cryptographic and distributed ledger techniques. It is part of the Web 3.0 movement to empower citizen data ownership.

Hashtag Our Stories

Amount awarded: £40,000

Hashtag Our Stories is building augmented reality (AR) video authoring tools that will help citizen journalists automatically generate factual stories.

The tools will be used to create content that brings people together by focusing on fighting hate crimes in the UK. Marginalised communities have amazing stories to tell, but they often don’t know HOW to tell them.

Hashtag Our Stories reaches millions of people daily with stories about people changing their world. The organisation has trained more than 3,000 storytellers in 140 countries and tells stories through the eyes of innovators, changemakers and unsung heroes.

The Manchester Meteor

Amount awarded: £25,000

The Meteor will establish a democratic media for Manchester, to fill the democratic deficit caused by the decline of traditional media. It aims to expand the membership of The Meteor media co-operative, through innovative communication strategies linked to a diverse programme of outreach events. Strengthening relationships with the wide range of socially conscious organisations it is already connected with will allow unique opportunities for collaborations in producing public interest news for Manchester. The team ultimately aims to build a media organisation with the backing of a broad public mandate, that will better serve the diverse range of communities they report to.

Media Trust

Amount awarded: £65,000

Media Trust wants to tackle the under-representation of people with disabilities in the news to ensure their voices are heard. News and newsrooms don't represent the one in five people with disabilities in the UK. This under-representation risks important stories going unreported, talent going unrecognised and negative attitudes towards disability going unchallenged.

Working in partnership, Media Trust and the BBC will be collaborating to extend the BBC's 50:50 project – which has successfully increased women's voices in the news and current affairs – to disability. Media Trust will draw on its long history of connecting the media sector with charities and under-represented communities to ensure they have a stronger voice, and that programmes are designed and implemented in close consultation with disability organisations and people with lived experience. The programme will include the creation of a disabled experts' directory, successful case studies, media training for disabled experts and training for journalists on approaching and interviewing disabled people. They hope the project will lead to disabled people engaging differently and playing a greater role in news reporting, production and distribution.

At the end of the programme, the team will share key lessons and best practice with other broadcasters and media organisations and invite them to follow the BBC's example and pledge to increase their disability representation.

mySociety

Amount awarded: £70,000

WhatDoTheyKnow Projects aims to enable journalists, campaigners and members of the public to work together on public interest stories driven by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Led by mySociety, the creators of the UK’s online FOI service WhatDoTheyKnow.com, the project will allow journalists to collaborate on FOI investigations with citizen investigators to make requests and turn the responses into a story. By making it faster and easier for journalists to use FOI, and by bringing readers into the process, the project aims to help media outlets to produce more and better public interest news and contribute to an increase in public trust in journalism.

New Internationalist

Amount awarded: £30,000

New Internationalist’s Bridging The Gap project will make its in-depth coverage of important social and environmental justice topics more accessible to a wider range of people in England. For the pilot project, which hinges around its May/June magazine exploring air pollution, the organisation will work with reader-owners to deliver workshops with communities in Newcastle who campaign for cleaner air, in collaboration with On Our Radar, which majors on surfacing unheard stories. This community-led editorial will feed into the May/June magazine, which will be launched at an event in Newcastle that will explicitly connect campaigners to those affected by the same issue worldwide. Alongside this, it will test new ways – such as sponsoring subscriptions – to engage its passionate supporters to help New Internationalist reach communities who are traditionally under-served by public interest news.

Open Democracy

Amount awarded: £69,800

The Open Registers of Interest project will unlock the hidden public interest stories that are currently locked up in politicians' registers of interests. They will work with stakeholders in the media and the public sector to establish an open data standard for publishing Registers of Interest. They will also prototype an online service that will demonstrate the potential of this data to inform the public debate, support public interest investigations and explore the scope for revenue raising services that could sustain the service into the future.

Omni Digital

Amount awarded: £35,000

By connecting hyperlocal journalists and their content with the wider news ecology supply chain, the Ping! platform is helping to create a more sustainable culture around hyperlocal journalism. Ping! was developed by The Centre for Community Journalism at Cardiff University, the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire, (UCLan) and Omni Digital.

Omni Digital specialises in innovative software solutions that drive positive change. This project will extend the functionality of Ping!, enabling a deeper level of story search via more fine-grained tagging, paving the way for natural language processing and machine learning. Research and impact evaluation of the project will be carried out by UCLan.

Ping!-Trends supports the aims of Ping!; to boost inclusivity and diversity across the industry by reflecting more community stories, and to stimulate mutually beneficial relationships between hyperlocal, community, regional, and national media through a more intelligible and transparent environment.

OneSub

Amount awarded: £35,000

OneSub is aiming to create an alternative, sustainable revenue for publishers, and a trustworthy, accountable and balanced source of news for consumers. OneSub uses AI to read and understand the news, and then cluster articles into discrete “stories”, building a complete picture of the emerging news landscape and each publisher’s position within it.

When OneSub serves content to an individual reader, they will personalise their experience by giving them the best article to provide balance against the articles read on previous days. This pattern is in direct contrast to major consumer platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, which use algorithms to push content that users will want to read, creating an echo chamber. OneSub wants to break the echo chamber!

Our Economy

Amount awarded: £45,000

Only one in ten people feel that politicians and the media talk about economics in a way that is understandable and accessible. Economy is a charity whose mission is to change that. The Our Economy West Midlands project aims to inject these traits into local economic news for a specific region of the UK. By partnering with both local media organisations and community groups they will develop a way of talking about the economy that is engaging, reflective of people’s lived experience and which makes everyone, particularly those furthest from power, feel part of the conversation about how the economy should be run.

PressPad

Amount awarded: £40,000

PressPad is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise which matches media interns with senior journalists who have a spare room for affordable hosting and mentorship. It costs a young person more than £1,000 to do a month of unpaid work experience in the capital: this prices out talented people from diverse backgrounds who simply can’t afford to get their foot in the door. PressPad’s unique grass-roots and sustainable model aims not just to give a leg up to those who can’t afford a route into journalism but also to engage key stakeholders in the industry and challenge them to change the culture of their workplaces through practical and measurable efforts. In the UK only 11 per cent of journalists come from a working-class background. They believe by tackling the lack of socio-economic and class diversity – a hidden element of usual conversations surrounding diversity – they can help create a more representative media that serves the interests of everyone.

Shout Out UK

Amount awarded: £30,000

Media Literacy For All aims to bridge the gap between local journalists and young people. For this project, they are offering a comprehensive Media Literacy programme for 14-19-year-olds. The curriculum is to be delivered via an online e-learning platform and aims to help young people become critical thinkers about the information they consume and learn how to stay safe online. After completion of the course, the students will connect with a local journalist via the e-learning platform’s Digital Newsroom feature. They will utilise the Digital Newsroom to produce high-quality articles, which will be reviewed by the local journalist, who will provide the students with constructive feedback about their writing. The best articles will then be published by the local publication and on the Shout Out UK website.

Tortoise

Amount awarded: £50,000

Tortoise is a media publisher on a mission to slow down and open up journalism. It is working with Nesta to trial its unique membership model for news, where members actively contribute to the stories they write through live discussion events called “ThinkIns”, in partnership with local newsrooms Grimsby Live, Plymouth Live and East Marsh United. The idea is to pave the way towards a sustainable future for local journalism, based on real-life conversations in communities.

W.T. Social

Amount awarded: £50,000

W.T.Social is an emerging social network creating a new model to engage the public in the production of public interest news. Based on the principles of wiki and directly designed by Jimmy Wales, W.T.Social is unique, supporting a collaborative online public space with genuine community control. The team hope to build a sustainable platform where quality news is shared and produced. The funding will support journalists and under-served communities to work collaboratively on public interest news so their voice is at the heart of W.T. Social.

#ThisMuchIKnow

Amount awarded: £60,000

#ThisMuchIKnow is a global news community putting genuine conversation at the heart of everything it does. Its mission is to power a society that is more knowledgeable, less fearful and engaged in healthier conversations around public interest news. With the grant funding, the organisation is expanding outside of London to reach under-served communities, and building its technology so that users can take action off the back of the headlines within its app.