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‘Help communities take over ailing newspapers’ – report

Regulations should be changed to make it easier for communities to take over local newspapers at risk of closure, according to a new report.

A report has been released by the Co-operatives UK and the Carnegie UK Trust which looks into potential new models of local newspaper ownership.

It suggests “Right to Buy” legislation could be extended to cover services like local news organisations, rather than just physical assets.

The report also proposes regulations on media ownership be amended so that communities are given first rights to buy titles which are being proposed for closures or mergers.

It was put together as part of a ‘Make Your Local News Work’ project by the two bodies looking into the decline of local newspapers and alternative business models, which saw eight workshops held earlier this year.

Said the report: “Fewer people are reading fewer titles produced by fewer people. This has serious implications for local civic society and community identity and cohesion.

“These problems have not yet, however, been matched by the identification of a sustainable, effective policy solution to support the local news sector.”

At the workshops, there were examples given about community ownership, including at the West Highland Free Press which is under the ownership of editorial and production staff.

The report also highlighted the barriers that community representatives could face in setting up co-operative ownership of a newspaper, including existing media owners being “resistant” to selling assets they do not want to others who can try alternative models.

It highlighted that when titles closed, owners were also reluctant to sell intellectual property such as the brand and archive material.

The report said: “Public policy can potentially play a key role here. In England and Wales, extending the ‘Right to Buy’ legislation to services, as well as physical assets, would enable communities to enter a process of negotiation with current owners that is not taking place at present.

“Regulations on media ownership could also be amended to ensure communities were given first rights to acquire titles which existing owners proposed to close or merge.”

Following the workshops, four groups were selected who were interested in exploring community ownership of publications and they will receive advice and mentoring until next March.

The full report can be viewed here.