A £2m fund for innovations to support public interest news is now open for bids following a recommendation by the Cairncross Review into the sustainability of news in the digital age. Media industry website Press Gazette reports that the Government-backed Future News Fund, managed by innovation charity Nesta, is divided into two tracks – 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'.
The innovation fund was one of nine recommendations made by Dame Frances Cairncross in February which she said 'has the potential to improve the outlook for high-quality journalism'. Nesta's own analysis has found that already disadvantaged areas are more likely to have lower levels of journalistic activity. And Nesta suggests that almost 50% of local authorities in the UK have fewer than 10 people working in newspaper publishing, while the Cairncross Review found that print sales of local newspapers have more than halved in the decade to 2017.
Valerie Mocker, the Future News Fund lead, said: '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 that 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'.
Dame Frances suggested that the fund be run independently by an Institute for Public Interest News which she recommended creating, although one has yet to be established. The Government's minister for media and creative industries, Nigel Adams, said the fund had been established to 'act as a catalyst for new ideas'. He pointed out: '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'.
Applications for the fund close on 8 December and can be made online here
by 'any organisation that has an idea to support sustainable public interest news', according to Valerie Mocker. The Future News Fund will close at the end of June 2020. Applications should be made to Nesta.
Harris-born Donalda MacKinnon proved she is a doughty fighter when, in her role as director of BBC Scotland, appearing before the Scottish Parliament's Culture Committee, she vigorously defended the performance of the fledgling BBC Scotland channel and openly admitted that the corporation had got it badly wrong on the issue of settling equal pay cases.
On the equal pay imbroglio, MacKinnon told MSPs: 'We have been dealing with these equal pay cases and many other pay inquiries over the course of the last two years. In this last year I have to admit the process has taken too long. I think it has been a bruising experience for those who have been involved in it; who have raised queries about their pay; and I thoroughly regret that. We are doing our best to deal with these cases to examine them thoroughly. That can take time because you can be dealing with some cases that go back decades'.
Glyn Isherwood, the BBC's group finance and operations director, backed up MacKinnon on the pay issue and explained to the committee that 74 cases had been raised in Scotland, with a 'handful' still outstanding. He didn't want to go into an exact number as 'it is such a small number we don't want to relate it to individuals'.
The BBC is currently fighting a highly-publicised equal pay claim brought by Newswatch
presenter Samira Ahmed to an industrial tribunal in London. Ahmed is claiming up to £700,000 in back pay. Isherwood told the Scottish MSPs that, across the BBC as a whole, some 1,300 pay queries are being dealt with – many as a result of a new framework aimed at making salaries more transparent.
The Culture Committee's convener, Joan McAlpine, a high-flying journalist before she went into politics and now an SNP MSP, claimed that in some cases, the 'dice were loaded' against BBC female staff complaining about their salary. She said: 'There is concern, certainly amongst the people I have spoken to, that you are not treating enough of these cases as equal pay cases and the dice are loaded against the women, because the BBC are employing HR specialists and lawyers to deal with this and the women fighting the cases don't have that advantage'.
I will look at MacKinnon's robust defence of the new BBC Scotland which was set-up and is being deveoped with a budget of £32m – a large chunk of the extra £40m given to BBC Scotland by the corporation's director general Tony Hall.
It's currently very much a selling market on the UK newspaper front. The sale of JPIMedia's national daily i
to Daily Mail
owner DMGT is expected to be completed within the next few days. Industry sources suggest that the deal has been held up by complications in separating the i
from JPIMedia's portfolio of around 200 regional newspapers, including The Scotsman
and the Yorkshire Post
, all of which are also up for sale.
According to a report in the Sunday Telegraph: '... the price of the i
is expected to be a multiple of the £24m paid by JPIMedia forerunner Johnson Press to Evgeny Lebedev's Independent Print Limited'. The Sunday Telegraph
adds that cover price increases and the addition of a weekend edition have improved revenue from the i
since it was purchased in 2016. The Guardian
has reported previously that JPIMedia was seeking around £75m for the daily which has picked up a very loyal readership.
There are reports that up to eight companies are ruminating on JPIMedia's assets, either as a package for the whole group, or individual groups and titles. Reach plc has confirmed its interest and former Local World chief, David Montgomery, was poised to set up a new company called National World and had identified JPIMedia as his first target.
has also cited Newsquest and Archant as potential bidders. Its report added that Dundee publishers D C Thomson ruled out bidding because it considers the likes of The Scotsman
to be overvalued. The Times
added it was hoped that Belgium media group, Mediahuis, will 'show its hand' after its purchase of Irish publisher Independent News & Media.
Meantime, the Daily Telegraph
and the Sunday Telegraph
are also reported to be on the market after its owner, the billionaire Barclay brothers, who had a Scottish father, have become unhappy with the group's increasingly slim profits. However, the group's Spectator
magazine would not be included in a sale.
The founder of Scottish Review, Kenneth Roy, somewhat astonishingly, wrote a 49,000-word book of 190 pages last year – all within four weeks as he lay dying from stomach cancer in a secluded side ward in the University Hospital, Ayr. Kenneth had written some 43 pages of In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying
by 7 October – around 30 days before his death on 5 November. Here is this week's somewhat sombre excerpt:
'Here is a night terror: something I truly dread. The scenario (I think I touched on it in passing a few pages ago); I wake up and think everything is all right; for a few moments I imagine that an ordinary day stretches ahead, a day full of purpose and plans. Then I remember. No more ordinary days. No more purpose. No more plans. Finis. It hasn't happened yet, but I rather fear it might, and it disturbs me because I know it would be upsetting, even destabilising. I can only exist in the reality of my situation, living from minute to minute, the clock ticking, hour by hour, the clock clicking, day after day, the clock ticking.'