UCLan’s Media Innovation Studio to lead new industry research on the future of trusted public-interest news
England’s oldest university journalism programme marks 60-year history with Google News Initiative-backed project to ask what the future of news will look like – and map how we will get there.
Today the Media Innovation Studio at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is launching the News Futures 2035 foresight project in response to concerns about the future of public-interest news in the UK.
Home to the oldest university journalism programme the UCLan research team, led by Dr François Nel, is perfectly placed to lead this exploration into the future history of this vital public service.
During three national roundtable events, the team will ask experts from inside, alongside and outside the industry to consider alternative scenarios, develop new visions and catalyse better relationships, all focused on the question: how can we secure the supply of trustworthy, public-interest news in the UK?
"... we are yet come together to imagine the futures we want to create tomorrow – and to work together to make it happen. The News Futures 2035 foresight study provides us the opportunity to do just that.”"— Dr François Nel, Reader in Media Innovationn and Entrepreneurship at UCLan.
The work is supported by the Google News Initiative, with consortium partners from leading news-industry organisations including the Society of Editors, Public Interest News Foundation, Independent Community News Network, Digital Editors’ Network, Bloomberg, Reach Plc and HMB Advisory.
People who would like to get actively involved in the News Futures 2035 roundtable discussions or just be kept updated, can express their interest via this short form.
Why does public-interest news matter?
In 2018, Dame Frances Cairncross published the seminal Cairncross Review that painted a bleak picture of the media industry – and with that – public-interest news and investigative journalism. At the time, she said there is a “clear link between the reduction in the numbers of local journalists and the closure of local newspapers on the one hand, and declines in democratic and civic engagement, and negative impacts on the management of public finances on the other."
"This is a unique opportunity to bring people together from across the industry, and beyond, to talk about the things that really matter – high-quality journalism, the public interest, and how we can find new models of news that truly serve society."— Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director, Public Interest News Foundation and associate researcher for News Futures
The report called for a number of interventions – yet most of these are still to be acted on. Meanwhile, this downward trend for some has been compounded by things like the spiralling cost of living and rocketing newsprint costs in the UK, alongside global crises like COVID-19 and climate change. Some of the latest industry data suggests that in the UK:
- print sales of national and local titles fell by roughly half between 2007 and 2017
- print advertising revenues fell by 70 per cent in the same period
- digital revenues have continued to increase, but not yet at a pace to counterbalance the declining in print revenues
- only 9% of people pay for their news online with most only paying for one news publication
- only 8% of all news-subscription payers are aged under 30
- less money is being spent on journalism by news-media organisations – going from £1.35bn in 2011 to £925m in 2018
- frontline journalist numbers decreased from around 23,000 in 2007 to 17,000 in 2019
- trust in news publishers is falling – for the BBC, trust fell from 75% in 2018 to 55% in 2022
- 61% or people are worried about misinformation from social media, and there is growing news avoidance, with 46% or people saying they are limiting their exposure
But it’s not all doom and gloom:
- there has been a steady growth in the number of hyperlocal and independent publications, whose mission is to fill the void left by the corporate-owned brands
- big news publishers like the Guardian, the Financial Times and News Corp have found some success in moving their operations online, particularly in reader revenues
- 59% of media leaders say their revenue has increased over the last year and 75% say they are confident about their company’s prospects for 2022
"It's a crucial time to consider what this evolving picture means for public-interest news, and how individuals or brands who create it can build towards a robust future, so I am delighted to be involved in this conversation."— Alison Gow, Audience and Content Director (North West), Reach Plc and Board, Society of Editors
How to get involved
A core, creative group of 75 journalists, academics, policymakers and media-development actors are being invited to attend three, linked plenary roundtable discussions:
- Roundtable 1: Thursday 13 October and Friday 14 October 2022, London
- Roundtable 2: Thursday 24 November and Friday 25 November 2022, Manchester
- Roundtable 3: Thursday 2 February and Friday 3 February 2023, London
People who would like to be included can express their interest via this short form.
An initial scene-setting research paper to inform the discussions is being prepared by Dr François Nel, with Jeremy Clifford, former editor-in-chief at Archant and visiting scholar at the Media Innovation Studio, and Jonathan Heawood, Executive, director of the Public Interest News Foundation and research associate for News Futures 2035.
A final News Futures 2035 report will:
- create shared visions for fact-based, public-interest news in the UK and beyond
- consider the implications of potential future scenarios for those with a stake in the news industry
- catalyse networks among those who have the power to shape the news ecosystem
Dr François Nel, Reader in Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship and course leader for the Journalism Innovation and Leadership Programme at UCLan, said:
“There are widespread concerns about the rise of misinformation and disinformation at the very time that the industry on which we’ve relied to supply trustworthy news in the public interest is struggling. And while there have been many interventions from media and development actors to shore-up today’s industry, we are yet come together to imagine the futures we want to create tomorrow – and to work together to make it happen.
"The News Futures 2035 foresight study provides us the opportunity to do just that.”
Alison Gow, Audience and Content Director (North West), Reach Plc and Board, Society of Editors, said: “Accurate and trusted news sources are an essential part of an informed society, yet the news industry, at all levels, faces challenges, from economic pressures, misinformation, disinformation and the rise of news aversion, to the blurring in audiences' minds between social-media distribution systems and the news providers who use them.
"It's a crucial time to consider what this evolving picture means for public-interest news, and how individuals or brands who create it can build towards a robust future, so I am delighted to be involved in this conversation.”
Laura Zelenko, Senior Executive Editor, Bloomberg News, said: ""Every day we see new challenges to the sanctity of fact-based reporting even as advancing technologies, increased diversity and more varied forms of storytelling give our newsrooms the opportunity to deliver better journalism.
"There is an urgency to the work News Futures 2035 is pursuing, and I look forward to engaging in robust and thoughtful discussion about how to preserve the ambition and standards that the industry requires."
"We're pleased to support UCLan's independent research to further strengthen British journalism, and consider how people across the country will access information and public interest news in 2035 and beyond."— Matt Cooke, Head of Google News Lab
Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director, Public Interest News Foundation and associate researcher for News Futures, said: “We’re going through a period of massive social change in the UK, and it’s hardly surprising that the news industry is struggling to keep up. That’s why I’m excited about the News Futures 2035 project.
"This is a unique opportunity to bring people together from across the industry, and beyond, to talk about the things that really matter – high-quality journalism, the public interest, and how we can find new models of news that truly serve society.”
Matt Cooke, Head of Google News Lab, said: "Everyone, everywhere, benefits from a healthy news industry and access to great local journalism. We're pleased to support UCLan's independent research to further strengthen British journalism, and consider how people across the country will access information and public interest news in 2035 and beyond."
Is another future possible?
After many years of change and struggle in the news industry, this may be a turning point in the future – and history – of news. Ultimately, many have a dystopian vision – where the provision of trusted news is lost – and where people are vulnerable to false information, disengaged or avoid news altogether. It may be that news-media organisations are not currently able to give communities what they want or need – but if audiences switch off – the public interest is not being served.
To explore these issues, the team is working with two experienced facilitators of participatory, multi-stakeholder processes: Dr Bruno Tindemans, Chief Foresite Officer for the government Department of Works in Brussels, and Alain Wouters, a strategy consultant formerly of the group planning department at Shell.
While the primary focus is on public-interest news in the UK, what is learned during News Futures 2035 will be relevant further afield, not least because the British media has often led the way.