Cardiff University launches UK’s first Centre for Community Journalism

From the website of the UK Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network.

Cardiff University launches UK’s first Centre for Community Journalism

By: Richard Booth, March 13, 2013 4:23 PM

This guest post is submitted by Damian Radcliffe.

Cardiff University, home of the UK’s oldest J-School, has launched a new Centre for Community Journalism. The move comes at a time of increased interest in hyperlocal media in the UK, with 2012 seeing the launch of “Destination Local” a new £1m program aimed at stimulating next-generation hyperlocal services in the U.K. (reported previously on our blog here) as well as a £1.4m research project exploring creative citizenship.

“We wanted to more than simply document the decline of traditional models of local journalism in countries like the UK,” Professor Justin Lewis, Head of School at Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies told me. “We also wanted to provide advice, support, training, networking, research and much else besides for  the interesting new models of community journalism which we see emerging. We recognized that that for a new sector to develop and thrive it would need help.”

To support this aspiration the Centre offers a range of training courses which may be of interest to readers, including news gathering techniques; awareness of legal and ethical frameworks; using digital platforms and social media; and developing community and content strategies.

As befits a sector which continues to find that many practitioners operate independently, often unaware of others operating in this space, the Centre also offers a community network for discussions. Another key challenge, visibility, is also addressed through the creation of a map for Welsh hyperlocals which supports wider UK efforts such as Openly Local’s directory.

The Centre was launched at a conference in January which was attended by over 200 people from across a wide range of different sectors. I was fortunate enough to speak at the event, alongside others including Jan Schaffer, Executive Director of the Institute for Interactive Journalism, Washington D.C. and Jon Kingsbury, Programme Director, Creative Economy at the UK Innovation Agency, NESTA.

One of the most striking things for me about the event was the level of interest from the public sector in hyperlocal media. Sara Moseley, who is running the Centre on secondment from her role as Communications Director for the Welsh Government, thinks there’s a good reason for this. And part of this is a direct response to devolution and changes in the way that Wales is governed.

“For the past six years during a time of great constitutional change, I have experienced first-hand the gap left when local media departs and the problems of engaging communities on some really key issues,” she told me. “However, I’ve also seen too how strong community networks are in Wales and how, in some areas, communities have already developed their own news networks in both English and Welsh.”

Examples of popular Welsh sites include, Wrexham.com, Oggy Bloggy Ogwr, Cwmbran Life and We Are Cardiff which won “Best Blog” in last year’s annual Wales Blog Awards. “Wales is a brilliant place to start an initiative like this,” Moseley added, “word gets around fast and there has been almost universal enthusiasm for creating something that can only be good for civic engagement and for connecting us as a nation.”

Sites like My Welshpool and the Caerphilly Observer  are helping to lead the way. Last year My Welshpool celebrated its two millionth page view and receiving over 10,000 monthly users,  whilst Richard Gurner who launched the Caerphilly Observer in July 2009, has shown that (with a lot of hard work) you can make it pay. Last year he told me: “Many in hyperlocal circles and the wider media industry state that creating a paying website is impossible – I love proving them wrong.” The site, which is growing at 100% year on year, currently enjoys 40,000 page views a month and just under 16,000 unique users.

As well as outreach and support for hyperlocal practitioners, the University is also keen to use the Centre as part of a holistic approach to research and teaching.

Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy, led a workshop at the launch event on research needs, noting the potential to join up this practical work with their wider study of creative citizenship.  Their £1.4m program, funded by the UK Research Council, includes a specific strand on the work of hyperlocals. Work to date has included some fascinating content analysis on news sources and the civic value of the news in relation to coverage of politics and the role of this nascent sector in developing different forms of “citizenship” across communities.

For J-School students the new Centre offers opportunities to observe, learn  – and one would hope potentially get involved – in innovative new projects.

Professor of Journalism, Richard Sambrook, who is also Director of the Centre for Journalism, noted the value of this, telling me: “The relationship between hyper locals and the community and the use of technology are core to how journalism is being redefined, so understanding the new dynamics and economics of community news is hugely valuable to the Journalism School and our students.”

To find out more about how this relationship is being defined, and for more information about hyperlocal media in Wales visit: http://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/en/

Damian Radcliffe (@mrdamian76) is the author of “Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today” the U.K.’s first review of this emerging sector. He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University’s Journalism School.  A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom, the U.K. Communications Regulator, and led an award winning partnership between the BBC and a UK NGO. His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on Slideshare and his personal website.

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