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November 4, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:32am

Government-backed £2m innovation fund for public interest news opens to bidders

By Freddy Mayhew

A £2m pilot fund for innovations to support public interest news, set up following a recommendation by the Cairncross Review into the sustainability of news in the digital age, is now open to bids.

The Government-backed Future News Fund, managed by innovation charity Nesta, is divided into two tracks, with each offering grants of up to £100,000 for each project, depending on its scope.

This includes money for projects testing new ideas for sustainable public interest news as well as funding for start-up businesses using technology to support the public interest news “ecosystem”.

Applications for the fund close on 8 December 2019 and can be made online by “any organisation that has an idea to support sustainable public interest news”, according to the fund’s lead.

An innovation fund was one of nine recommendations made by Dame Frances Cairncross in February that she said “have the potential to improve the outlook for high-quality journalism”.

Dame Frances (pictured) suggested the fund be run independently by an Institute for Public Interest News, which she recommended creating, although one has yet to be established.

Minister for media and creative industries, Nigel Adams, said the fund had been established to “act as a catalyst for new ideas”.

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He added: “It’s great that the scheme is opening for bids and I look forward to seeing a raft of new approaches to help create innovative ways to share public interest news.”

Alongside the opening of the fund, Nesta has shared its own analysis which has found that already disadvantaged areas are more likely to have lower levels of journalistic activity.

The firm also suggests that almost half of local authorities in the UK have fewer than ten people working in newspaper publishing.

The Cairncross Review found that print sales of local newspapers had more than halved in the decade to 2017.

Valerie Mocker, Future News Fund lead, said: “Public interest news is part of the immune system that keeps our democracy healthy.

“Everyone should be able to connect quickly to information as a way to hold public institutions such as politicians, councils, courts or school boards to account. Everyone should have access to a platform for the issues and campaigns that matter to you most locally.

“The Cairncross Review confirmed the already common understanding that public interest news, especially at local level, has collapsed. Ensuring everyone has access to reliable, accurate and high-quality public interest news is a key part of a functioning society.

“The solution is not to simply put more money into existing journalism, as high quality as much of it is, but to completely transform the way that public interest news is created, distributed and sustained for future generations.

“The best ideas to address this urgent challenge will not just come from inside the established industry and we want to support a wide variety of organisations to take part.”

The Future News Fund will close end in June 2020. Applications should be made to Nesta.

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