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Campaigners seek to showcase ‘small is beautiful’ model

A Scottish weekly newspaper and a hyperlocal website in Berkshire have been highlighted as examples of the way ahead for the regional news industry.

Campaigners are seeking to showcase the benefits of a “small is beautiful” approach to regional publishing in a series of meetings over the next month.

The ‘Make Your Local News Work’ events will highlight examples of newspapers owned by community groups and co-operatives as opposed to large publishing companies.

They include the West Highland Free Press, which celebrated 40 years in print last year, and Marlborough News Online, which was launched two years ago.

The paper, launched in 1972, was sold off three years ago to its employees by its founders who included former Labour MP and minister Brian Wilson.

Its finance director Paul Wood, managing director of the Free Press, will be among the speakers at the first event, to take place in London on 6 June.

Malrborough News Online is owned by a four person worker co-operative. There is no editor, with stories needing to be signed off by two members to go live.

It currently reaches 25pc of the town’s 8,000 residents through the site together with its iPhone and iPad apps.

The series of events is being organised by Co-Operatives UK and the Carnegie Trust.

The event is also being supported by the National Union of Journalist, which is hosting next week’s London event.

A spokesman for the organisers said: “Local media isn’t dying. It’s just being badly cared for, and won’t recover unless communities take action themselves.

“As ever more local newspapers close and titles merge, more and more communities are left without a local media outlet, feeding a sense that local media is undergoing a slow but inevitable death. But there are examples across the British Isles, the US and elsewhere that tell a different story.”

Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary said:  “The union is unequivocal about the importance of the greatest level of media plurality possible to the fabric of the country’s democracy.

“We believe the ownership of existing titles carries a duty to balance not only making profit but also to meet communites’ need for local news.

“The axe has repeatedly fallen,  usually to try to support very high levels of profit margins of 20pc or more, used to service large debts, with scant concern for the loss of editorial quality and service to the community.

“We hope these events will focus attention on the plight of the regional and local press in the UK and the need to safeguard editorial integrity and the quality of content in a digital age. Alternative forms of media ownership will form a major part of this debate.”

Further events will take place in Leicester, Durham, Glasgow, Birnam near Perth, Crewe, Belfast and Cardiff.

For further information and to book a free place, click here.