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Government sets up £2m fund to help local public interest journalism

Valerie MockerA government-backed £2m fund for local journalism projects has opened for applications amid a warning that disadvantaged communities are being affected by a decline in journalistic activity.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Future News Fund is inviting bids for up to £100,000 to aid projects aimed at helping the regional press explore “innovative ways” to provide local public interest journalism.

The fund’s launch comes as innovation foundation Nesta, which is administering the scheme, published news research into public interest journalism coverage across the UK.

Nesta’s analysis suggests that almost half of local authority areas in the UK have less than 10 people working in newspaper publishing, while disadvantaged communities which have older populations, higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of education are particularly affected by a decline in journalistic activity.

Grants of between £20,000 and £100,000 will be given to support projects across England that will test new ideas for sustainable public interest news.

Another strand of funding, again offering grants worth up to £100,000, will be reserved for start-up businesses which use technology to support the generation and delivery of public interest news.

Future News Fund lead Valerie Mocker, pictured, said: “Public interest news is part of the immune system that keeps our democracy healthy.

“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 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.

“The best ideas to address this urgent challenge will not just come from inside the established industry and we want to support a wide variety of organisations to take part.

“Any organisation that has an idea to support sustainable public interest news, should visit the Nesta website and get their application in by 8 December.”

The fund’s launch was announced in July following recommendations in the Cairncross Review into the future of news provision in the UK.

Nigel Adams, Minister for Sport, Media and the Creative Industries, said: “Journalists hold the powerful to account and shine a light on important issues the public need to know about.

“We are determined to support those doing this vital work and have established the Future News Fund to act as a catalyst for new ideas.

“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.”