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September 21, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:36am

Former IFJ general secretary launches new model for local journalism in Newham, east London

By Charlotte Tobitt

The founder of the Ethical Journalism Network is launching a new community newspaper in east London after concluding journalism must “increasingly be not-for-profit”.

Aidan White, former general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, told Press Gazette “there is no evidence” journalism can be a big moneymaker anymore.

“I think we all recognise that,” he said. “But is journalism necessary? Of course it is. And do we have to find a way to make the provision of journalism an absolute priority? Absolutely we do.

“But it isn’t going to be a profit-making machine. There’s not going to be a cash cow. We are not looking for that and there is no evidence it can be done.”

White and a team of like-minded journalists decided to launch a new monthly community newspaper, which they hope will go weekly if it becomes sustainable, and website for the London borough of Newham.

A report into democracy and civil participation, commissioned by the Mayor of Newham, concluded in July that the area needed a “cooperative, citizens’ media organisation in Newham, funded in a start-up phase through an endowment”.

“This would support independent journalism and enhanced democratic debate in the borough,” the report, which had used the Bristol Cable’s co-operative model as an example, said.

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The area is covered by Archant’s Newham Recorder, which had an average weekly print circulation of 7,338 – mostly distributed free – and 7,500 daily average unique browsers in 2019 according to ABC.

But the newspaper is based in Barking, rather than Newham, alongside Archant’s other east London titles.

The report said the Recorder and other local titles “no longer possess the resources that were once available for reporting on public life in the borough”.

White, who worked on the now-defunct Stratford Express in the 1970s, added that Newham Voices would be more focused on neighbourhood and “parish-pump” style news.

The major difference is that the new title is filled primarily by volunteer contributors, with about 20 to 25 involved so far. There is as yet only one paid staff member so far, from an editorial board of four.

The brand’s manifesto, published online, states it will need a minimum of two skilled staff members commissioning and editing “to ensure sustainability and continuity”.

White said: “It’s very straightforwardly growing from the bottom starting small but I think this is how journalism will survive. It isn’t dead by any means, it’s actually more alive than you realise and it’s needed more than ever.

“That’s our experience and we are quite hopeful, quite optimistic because all the evidence is people want it, people need it, people are prepared to learn how to contribute to it and they are pitching in to help.”

The third pillar of the venture is a community journalism training project, which has three courses already booked up in November. White said some of these participants will hopefully go on to become neighbourhood correspondents making regular contributions.

The title will be funded by donations – about £5,000 has already been raised – plus advertising from small local businesses and grants.

White added: There’s momentum for journalism that’s community based, sustainable, jealous of its editorial independence and recognising we live in a world where journalism will increasingly be not-for-profit.

“In my view I think this model is the right model. It’s a way of saying to the public at large you can have your own journalism and it’s a way of saying to public bodies and authorities you need to do more to sustain and support local democracy through an independent news service.”

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