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Sponsored court reporters

and other business models

A LOCAL news cooperative in Port Talbot, run by a board of seven journalists who met via the NUJ, continues to provide news coverage after the Port Talbot Guardian, the community radio station and the local council freesheet all closed down.

Port Talbot Magnet masthead; © Port Talbot Magnet

Port Talbot Magnet carries news sourced by professional journalists, volunteers (some of them cooperative members) and members of the community who send in copy such as match reports. Over three years Magnet has attracted £50,000 in funding. And it has a "Pitch-In!" scheme that solicits story ideas and funding. Magnet's Rachel Howells says Pitch-In has brought "new members, donations, advertising, a free office, and has paid for our public liability insurance", which covers coop member volunteers.

Pitch-in Logo; © Port Talbot Magnet
The "Pitch-In!" scheme brings home the fact that if you want quality news coverage, it's going to cost you. Its "Sponsor a court reporter for a day" section reminds punters that the now-vanishing practice of "reporting from an ongoing court case is a highly specialised job that requires training and experience... which will cost £150 a day."

As we go to press Magnet's commercial arm, which has sold stuff to Sky News, is putting their "first toe in the water of print" - as a media partner on one-off newspaper produced by a major cultural organisation. Cash from the project goes into paid Magnet reporting. The project is provisional on Magnet's advertising sales people (they're paid commission) selling advertising on it.

Meanwhile Magnet journalists are busy enough to turn away paid work, which they're passing on. Rachel told the Freelance "we're becoming more of an agency for members."

Magnet's 2010 market research revealed 63 per cent of people surveyed were willing to pay for local news, and a quarter of respondents "had never used the internet," a phenomenon based on "socio-economic" background "rather than age", says Rachel. Her day job writing a funded PhD - on the democratic deficit caused by the decline of local media - and her work with Magnet "feed into each other."

A pdf Magnet is planned, possibly a print-on-demand version, with readers paying a local print shop (but not Magnet) for a print-out. They're talking with Ofcom and innovation investors NESTA about this and other hyper-local initiatives.

Members of Port Talbot Magnet board; ©  Ingrid Bousquet

Magnet board members (l-r) Simon Davies, Ken Smith, Andy Pearson, Rachel Howells, Mike Witchell

Such imaginative business models will be the focus of a London Freelance Branch conference later this year, working title "New Ways To Make Journalism Pay: Part 2". See here for a report from its successful 2010 precursor.

  • Port Talbot Magnet is not to be confused with the NUJ's own email network for freelance magazine contributors, Mag-Net.
Last modified: 05 Feb 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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