Mapping Public Interest Journalism in Wales

22 May 2024 | Inclusive Journalism Cymru

When something’s not working, how do we fix it? 

We all know there are serious cracks in the journalism sector – with shrinking readerships, a decline in trustworthy news, discrimination and burnout in the workplace, job cuts – the list sadly goes on. We know too that Welsh journalism in particular is suffering, but how do we begin to tackle these issues when they seem so deep-rooted and pervasive? 

Arguably, we must start by mapping out the current conditions of the industry, examining who may be excluded and where the greatest risks lie. Clearly, decisions on how to address this polycrisis should be based on data and evidence, not just intuition. The “Mapping Public Interest Journalism in Wales” research report aims to do just this.

The project originally stemmed from a 2023 report from the Welsh Government convened Wales Public Interest Journalism Working Group which recommended that more should be done to “understand the barriers and enablers” of this sector, with a focus on diversity and inclusion, working conditions and user needs. Though UK-wide studies on the journalism landscape exist, there has been a distinct lack of Wales-specific data. That’s despite the fact that some of the structural challenges faced here are arguably deeper, and represent an even greater risk to both the industry and wider society. 

In response, Creative Wales commissioned an in-depth research report led by Cardiff University and in partnership with us, Inclusive Journalism Cymru. 

As an organisation advocating for a safer and more inclusive journalism industry in Wales, it made sense to feed into this project and lend our support. We believe in real structural change, not tokenistic gestures, so honing in on the roots of the issues is something we wanted to get behind, as we believe this is the crucial first step in the journey towards transformation. 

"We know Welsh journalism in particular is suffering, but how do we begin to tackle these issues when they seem so deep-rooted and pervasive? "

The research was led by Dr. Marlen Komorowski and Dr. Máté Miklos Fodor, who our Founder Shirish Kulkarni worked closely with to outline the project’s aims. As mentioned, three main areas of research were identified: Inclusion, Welsh language and news deserts; The state of the journalism workforce in Wales; and Users’ needs, journalistic output in Wales and journalists’ skills. It was agreed that these areas would be investigated primarily through a Wales-wide survey that would be sent out to a broad range of journalism stakeholders. The quantitative data gathered from this would then be complemented with qualitative data, as a way to fill in gaps of information and flesh out the figures. 

This is where I came in. Having accrued a thorough understanding of Welsh journalism and a diverse pool of contacts through my work as Project Manager for Inclusive Journalism Cymru and Campaign Organiser for the Public Interest News Foundation – as well as being a Welsh-speaker – put me in a good position to carry out the qualitative research. I did this through organising a series of focus groups and interviews, separated into categories such as Journalists, Editors, and Stakeholders. I also wanted to focus on Welsh-language publications separately, as I believe they face their own unique set of challenges which need to be acknowledged. 

It felt encouraging to gather people together and hear their stories, though not all accounts were positive, of course. I spoke to people from varying backgrounds and with different relationships to journalism, but common threads suggested that, yes, the industry seems to be on a worrying trajectory, with dwindling capacity and funding, a rise in clickbait and fake news, and a plethora of other concerns. However, a sense of purpose was still present, people still believed that journalism has the potential to strengthen communities and reflect the more diverse, forward-thinking Wales of today. Even the very fact that there was dissatisfaction gave me a strange sense of hope: people know that the industry isn’t good enough and that conditions need to improve – fast. 

A collection of personal experiences can’t represent the industry as a whole, but they can offer a deeper understanding of wider trends, acting as springboards from which to cast our attention. There were stories of frustration – of there not being any viable employment options or safe environments to work – and stories of concern – of entire Welsh communities being unrepresented and news stories being driven by revenue not relevance. For those working in the Welsh language, there was a clear desire to be more inclusive but an obvious limitation in terms of the number of Welsh speakers and therefore potential audiences.

"A collection of personal experiences can’t represent the industry as a whole, but they can offer a deeper understanding of wider trends, acting as springboards from which to cast our attention."

Through recording and transcribing sessions I was able to conduct a thematic analysis on the data gathered, that is, to categorise information and identify any patterns that emerged. It was interesting to see that most of this coincided with the findings from the survey, and also pointed towards further avenues of exploration separate from the main research questions. 

You will need to read the whole report to get a fuller understanding, but here are its main headlines: 

  • Compared to the general population, there is an imbalance of gender, age and socioeconomic backgrounds (the majority of journalists being 45 – 54 year old men from middle-class households) 
  • Newsrooms and organisations are not inclusive of disabled people
  • Most content does not represent the full range of people and communities that make up Wales
  • Jobs in journalism are precarious and unstable
  • Short-term, project-based funding and tokenistic gestures are not sustainable 
  • There is a tension between journalistic aspirations and the type of content that gets engagement 
  • Lack of Welsh-language training and career development opportunities

These may not come as a surprise, and indeed you may have been complaining about these problems for years, but there is value in giving feelings and hunches a concrete shape; data has the power to change because it is objective, its patterns reflect a collective truth which can stand up to scrutiny. 

What’s even more important than the findings themselves are the recommendations they have helped form. These are evidence-based calls to action that will steer Welsh Government funding and shed light on the structural issues that continue to prop up a broken journalism industry. It is a crucial time to fund public interest news, now that misinformation is rife and its potential impacts so dangerous. Recommendations include support for inclusive and representative journalistic content through targeted grants and training; engaging young people to enter journalism through workshops and internships; and encouraging bilingual content through award schemes. 

Wales has the opportunity to prioritise a healthy, independent news culture, foster safe and welcoming work practices, and to create the conditions for trustworthy content which reflects the interests and perspectives of everyone in our nation. Now we have a clearer picture of where our journalism industry is at, we can begin taking steps towards positive change, steps that are bolstered by evidence and informed by real people’s experiences.