This year marks the first full 12 months of the existence of the LCM Network after it was approved and formed in 2019. At our first AGM in Brighton in January 2020 we had proposed a series of events including a one-day conference; we quickly realised we would have to pivot to virtual activities as the challenges of the pandemic struck and so we have managed to preserve a schedule of events and activities despite not being able to meet in person.
At the heart of these has been a series of webinars, which were organised jointly with colleagues in the Policy Network, following the cancellation of our conference, ‘Reappraising Local and Community Media’.
Our first session took place on May 6, 2020 with Victor Pickard (Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, USA) who spoke on ‘Imagining a Post-Pandemic Future for Local Journalism’. Dr Pickard had been scheduled as our conference keynote, and we were fortunate to be able to catch him at the end of a year-long research visit in London, which coincided with the publication of his acclaimed book Democracy without Journalism? Confronting the Misinformation Society (OUP2020). His talk engaged directly with the crisis facing commercial local media and journalism, and the acceleration of that crisis by the Covid-19 crisis.
Our second session took place on June 3, 2020 with Jonathan Heawood (Public Interest News Foundation), who spoke on ‘Local News – The Role of Independent Media’. Discussing the work and findings of the Public Interest News Foundation to date – an organisation that is “working in partnership with colleagues in the UK and around the world to understand the unique contribution that independent news providers make to society”. Dr Heawood outlined how small independent news providers are struggling to stay afloat, especially due to massive financial losses as print earnings (in particular) have collapsed. He went on to discuss some of the ways in which these news organisations have been adapting to the new political-economy during the pandemic, and what the outlook is for the sector.
Our third session took place on July 1, 2020 with Clare Cook (University of Central Lancashire), who spoke on ‘Re-modelling revenues for web-indigenous journalism’. The webinar saw Dr Cook argue that while web-indigenous journalism is playing an increasingly prominent part in the UK media ecosystem, finding a sustainable revenue model is the biggest challenge.
With the aim of promoting work in our subject area, the network was successful in having two conference panels accepted. The first, on the theme of Trust in Local and Community Media was part of the Responsible Journalism and Communication in Divided and Conflicted Societies conference, hosted by the Centre for Trust Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University in September 2020. The second, on the theme of ‘Local Media: Creating Communities” accepted for the 8th European Communication Research and Education (Ecrea) Conference which was due to be held in Braga, Portugal in Autumn 2020. The conference has been delayed until September 2021 and we are hopeful that it will go ahead – ideally in person, but if not, it will run online. The network is grateful to our colleagues across Europe who have contributed papers to these panels.
In terms of other activities, the network contributed evidence to the Lords Communication Committee enquiry into the Future of Journalism which ran last year. The network called for a focus on local news provision in its own right, given its continued significance to communities in the UK. We provided evidence of the need for further research into the location and nature of local news provision and also called for a deeper consideration of the role local news place in communities. Additionally, we provided case studies of news provision beyond the dominant corporate-owned local newspaper and suggested mechanisms to stimulate those alternatives, such as those adopted by Gordon Brown in relation to brewing which have done so much to support small beer producers.
Lastly, the network is a regular contributor to the MeCCSA Three-D magazine and has its own Twitter account, @LoCoMeNetwork. We also have our own Jiscmail which is the best way to keep up with our activities. The list is open to all subscribers to post messages and is a great way to discuss issues of interest. Do sign up to take part; details can be found at https://www.meccsa.org.uk/discussion-list/