Welsh community website launches new funding model - Press Gazette

Welsh community website launches new funding model

A community news website in a South Wales town where the last dedicated paper closed two years ago has launched a new funding model which it believes could revolutionise its fortunes.

A co-operative first was launched by eight journalists in 2009 in reaction to major cuts in the local press including the closure that year of Trinity Mirror weekly the Port Talbot Guardian.

In 2011 they launched the website Port Talbot Magnet, funded largely by donations from directors and interested partners, with stories written on a voluntary basis.

It has now combined its cooperative ethic with the US 'Spot.Us' non-profit model based on crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

The new model is called Pitch-in! and calls on locals to support the website by producing local news, suggesting stories for journalists to work on, sponsoring journalists, donating to its development fund, sponsoring new sections, carry out fundraising and volunteering.

As it is a social enterprise and a co-operative all profits go back into developing the news service.

Those behind the website say it is built on the belief that "good journalism is essential to democracy" and aims to "ensure it is accessible to all".

One of MagNet's directors, Rachel Howells, said: 'We have set up a great basic framework for producing local news for Port Talbot, but we want to do something innovative, and something that involves local people in their own news."

'We know this model has great potential. We've seen something similar in action in America, for example with the website Spot.Us, which collects donations towards stories that are in the public interest and distributes them on all kinds of news networks.

"But we have brought a few different ideas together to come up with It – the Spot.Us model was one element, but we also brought the ethos of co-operatives to this idea, along with our hyperlocal focus, which means we are intent on serving the town of Port Talbot."

Howells is currently researching a PhD at Cardiff University into what happens to a town when it loses its local paper and the implications for democracy. In it she is looking at sustainable alternative business models for news.

She added: 'We think Pitch-in! gives local people a real chance to get involved in the way news serves Port Talbot, and to have a say in how it is provided. Gone are the days of journalists deciding the news agenda and simply dishing it out.

"Today's news agendas should be part of an ongoing collaboration with the communities they represent and serve. We want people to pitch in, both with money and fundraising efforts, but also with ideas and news of their own. We have the framework and the skills to develop the service, but we think community involvement and collaboration is the only way we'll develop in the future."

Targets for the appeal include sponsoring a court reporter for a day, or sponsoring a new football results service covering all the teams in the area.

"These are just a taste of what we would like to achieve," said Howells. "We have a long list of goals, including reporting council meetings and news, police and emergency services news, increasing our coverage of business news, sport, arts, music, entertainment, charity groups and campaigns – things we don't have the resources for at the moment.

"And we are looking for local people to tell us what they would like us to cover, as well as giving journalists the opportunity to pitch in with ideas for investigations or news that they think should be covered."

Click here to visit Port Talbot Magnet