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Local journalism collaborative launches The Scottish Beacon

Eighteen independent local and hyperlocal news publications serving urban and rural communities across Scotland have joined forces to create The Scottish Beacon, a new national publication.

Local journalism collaborative launches The Scottish Beacon
Rhiannon J Davies: “I truly believe that the future of journalism is collaborative.”

The Scottish Beacon says its news website is the first collaborative journalism outlet of its kind in the country. The aim is to strengthen the independent community-based media sector and bring stories from Scotland’s communities to a wider audience.

The website will spotlight articles on topics including community empowerment, social equality, local democracy and the environment – from Shetland in the north to Dumfries and Galloway in the south.

The publications involved all have different structures and models. Some are non-profit, some are limited companies, some are sole traders. Some of the publications are only in print, others digital, and many are both. All are independently-owned and produce original journalism in the public interest, firmly rooted in serving the communities in which they are based. The site is regulated by IMPRESS.

Other publications involved in the project at this stage include: The Bellman, Broughton Spurtle, C&B News, Clydesider, Crail Matters, The Edinburgh Minute, The Edinburgh Reporter, Fios, Forres Local, The Ileach, Glenkens Gazette, Greater Govanhill, The Hawick Paper, Inverclyde Now, The Lochside Press, Midlothian View, Migrant Women Press, The Orkney News, Shetland News.

However, with many more independent publications out there, it is expected that membership numbers will continue to grow following the launch.

The Scottish Beacon network says it holds regular meetings, sharing resources, skills and working together to identify collaborative investigations. Together they hope to re-invigorate local public interest news and overcome common challenges such as long-term sustainability. Many independent publications currently run on shoestring budgets, some with no income at all. The aim is to strengthen the sector, generating income and raising awareness of the value that good local journalism can bring to a community.

Rhiannon J Davies, founder of Greater Govanhill community magazine and the Scottish Beacon project said: “I truly believe that the future of journalism is collaborative. I developed the idea for this project after being inspired by similar established collaboratives in the US. But there are some brilliant community-based publications in Scotland – I’m really excited to see what we can do together.

“There’s been so many brutal cuts made by the corporate publishers to local news which mean that too often journalists working in distant newsrooms are reporting on communities they are not familiar with. It’s wild that just three publishers own the vast majority of local news publications, while big tech has hoovered up much of the traditional revenues streams.

“But still I keep meeting these dedicated journalists – paid and voluntary – who provide a vital local service. They’re not doing it for the money, but because they care about their communities and because these stories matter.

“By collaborating on stories, and digging into national topics at a local level, we hope to amplify stories that too often go unheard, holding power to account and strengthening community voices.”

The project has been supported with funding from the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge Fund. As well as the innovation of the collaboration itself, the project team have worked with evaluation consultants Matter of Focus, to incorporate impact tracking software, into their work. This allows them to track the impact on the participating publications, and the independent news sector as well as on audiences.

The publication will generate revenue through a mix of different income streams including through membership fees, partnerships, advertising and grant funding. It will use the engaged membership platform Beabee to involve readers in stories and determine future projects.

Rhiannon has been working on this project alongside Juliana da Penha, founder of Migrant Women Press, who said: “Running an independent publication dedicated to marginalised communities is fascinating but, at the same time, extremely demanding – mainly because of the power structures that dominate the journalism industry and the lack of support dedicated for independent publications. I believe at The Scottish Beacon we are building an alternative, collaborative and sustainable path for independent journalism.”

Speaking about why it is needed, one of the publication partners, Amanda Eleftheriades-Sherry, founder of The Clydesider said: “I feel most media organisations and journalists have become too distanced from the people and communities they report on. I hope that by being part of a network of independent media organisations we can work together to try and change this.”

The project was developed following a pilot print magazine of the same name, which was published during COP26. Speaking about the launch, Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) said: “At PINF, we were delighted to support the pilot print issue of The Scottish Beacon – the COP26 Special. And we’re even happier to see The Scottish Beacon becoming a permanent part of the media scene. Across Scotland, independent publishers are producing excellent journalism. They need a showcase for their work, and a network to support greater collaboration. The Scottish Beacon will provide both, and we look forward to seeing it flourish.”

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