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How is independent news addressing the democratic deficit?

In the UK ans around the world, independent news publishers are plugging the democratic deficit. With new business models and new forms of journalism, independent publishers are providing information and accountability to audiences that have not been well served by the established media. What can these initiatives learn from each other? And how can we build on their achievements to safeguard public interest journalism - and democracy? Hardeep Matharu (Byline Times), Lydia Ragoonanan (Advisor to Nesta), Kathryn Geels (Engaged Journalism Accelerator - European Journalism Centre), took to the Trust in Journalism Conference 2019 stage alongside Stephen Khan (The Conversation), who chaired the discussion.

Stephen put to panellists the question of what they understand by the term 'democratic deficit' and how their respective organisations are countering it.

Hardeep Matharu explained that addressing the democratic deficit was a key driving factor in setting up Byline Times.

"There is a real urgency to have independent reporting of issues that are really affecting people on a macro level and a micro level." (Hardeep Matharu, Byline Times)

"What we are doing at Byline Times is trying to create a sort of old school paper that looks at national issues but through a relationship of localism that we are trying to create with our readers."

"The demise of local journalism has very much fed into the democratic deficit. There’s broader questions of accountability as well, the sort of people that are becoming journalists, their backgrounds, where they are coming from; if it is just quite a narrow club, that’s a real issue in terms of how people are being held to account, what stories are being covered. ”

Lydia Ragoonanan shared how Nesta's Future News Pilot Fund seeks to address the democratic deficit, by not only supporting but sustaining independent news organisations.

"It’s not just understanding what those community or local audiences really care about, and therefore the public interest news that helps spark their interest and get them engaged but also how we sustain that. Sustainability is absolutely part of the picture as well.”

Kathryn Geels sees a different way forward:

"The focus of our [the Engaged Journalism Accelerator] isn’t about the shiny kind of projects (...) We see that there is a place for that, but organisations are increasingly wanting to do something that’s really core to them and be able to thrive in that way."

"One problem for philanthropic funding for journalism is that you don’t normally get organisations that will fund the core operations of a news organisation because (...)".

"There’s a balance between organisations like ours and like Nesta that are trying to find out more about certain parts of the industry to be better informed and allow them to better continue to support organisations, but at the same time understanding that new shiny things, especially when it comes to technology, isn’t something that journalism needs."

Finally, asked by an audience member how to retain the interest of funders going into your third or fourth round of funding, Lydia Ragoonanan's message was clear:

“Innovation isn’t for innovation’s sake. If you see someone doing something else that would be really nice to have but you can’t afford to add on, then don’t think about doing that for your business. Think about the things that are really going to transform who you reach, how you reach them and how you can sustain yourself."


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