When The Journalism Foundation was founded last December in the UK as a charitable organisation promising to promote a free and independent press, it stated that one of its first projects would be to support the Stoke-On-Trent based local politics website Pits n Pots.
Now, almost four months later, the redesigned Pits n Pots website has been launched, with a statement from The Journalism Foundation’s chief executive Simon Kelner that it should “increase the reach and relevance of Pits n Pots to the people of the area”.
Alongside the website redesign, The Journalism Foundation has also released a free “how to build a local website” toolkit, aimed at “anyone who wants to start up their own local news network”. The guide includes instructions on how to use social media, how to use WordPress, how to write a good local story and how to produce an attractive website design. Contributors include David Hutchinson, the head of digital design at News International, Danny Finkelstein, the executive editor of The Times and Jonathan Richards, interactive editor of The Guardian.
The new Pits n Pots website, the first Journalism Foundation-funded project to be launched, has been designed by Nick Donaldson, head designer at The Independent. In an announcement of the new site, Pits n Pots says that the redesign should be more social-media friendly and better adapted for use on smartphones and tablets. For the moment, this translates into the addition of social media sharing buttons at the top of articles, comment boxes at the bottom, and a clean, print-like lay-out. But while the changes don’t seem revolutionary, they’re certainly attractive. In addition to the new site, the Journalism Foundation has said that it will also help back a print edition of Pits n Pots, to be published next month.
Pit n Pots, which has broken a few stories that were taken up in the national press, states on its website that it was originally launched in 2008 to “fill the gap left by decreasing sales of local papers and dwindling coverage of local politics”. That gap seems to be growing larger than ever, making projects of this kind increasingly necessary. The UK’s National Union of Journalists published an article a few weeks ago, complaining of the pressures put on local journalists at Trinity Mirror titles as a result of severe cutbacks. As a consequence of the cuts “journalists can no longer follow council meetings, court cases and admit to ‘increasingly going for the easy stories’” the union wrote.
But while non-profit or foundation-backed journalism sounds like an attractive alternative that could step in to fill the void, there has been discussion on the other side of the Atlantic about whether this model is really viable. A few weeks ago Justin Ellis at Nieman Lab pointed out that the Chicago News Cooperative was forced to cease operations after changes to the way it was funded, the Voice of San Diego had to fire staff after it found itself short of funding, and the Bay Citizen, whose main funder died last December, has merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting. Poynter, who confirmed the deal yesterday, quoted Bay Citizen reporter Dan Fost, who wrote, “while technically a merger, a similar deal in the corporate world would be termed an acquisition, with Berkeley-based CIR assuming a dominant role on the board and in the management of the combined organization.”
Yet while some non-profit news groups may have faced problems in the US, there is still growing potential for non-profit journalism projects, as the American Journalism Review pointed out a few days ago, and there is plenty of funding out there. But, obviously, the way these projects are run determines their viability. In an interview with the SFN Blog last week, Richard Tofel, the general manager of ProPublica, stated that he thought that non-profit journalism had a bright future, but that was “not to say that, because you declare yourself a non-profit it’s a guaranteed route to success.”