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  5. New Scottish journalism body chair warns of ‘news deserts’

The chair of a new media institute today warned that failure to support local newspapers risks “driving democracy off a cliff”.

Former Sunday Herald editor and The National founder Richard Walker spelled out the consequences of so-called ‘news deserts’ at the launch of the Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute (SPIJI.)

He said: “A free, independent media is a cornerstone of democracy. But the business model that once supported public interest journalism has been shattered in recent years by the loss of advertising revenues to social media, search engines, and online advertising platforms, which in turn drastically altered consumer behaviour.

Richard Walker

“As a result, we have seen a dramatic decline in public interest journalism in Scotland, with the danger of news deserts where there is no-one left to champion local communities or hold authority to account.

“Without public interest journalism democracy could be driven off a cliff.”

The SPIJI brings together a diverse cross-section of industry leaders, academics, and the National Union of Journalists to explore new ways of supporting and funding public service journalism.

It was launched to act as a focal point for debate and action following a report by the Scottish government’s short life working group on public interest journalism, in which the SNS played a leading role.

The Scottish government say they are committed to “ensure the long-term sustainability and resilience of public interest journalism in Scotland”.

The goals of the SPIJI include:

• Act as a conduit for grants and financial support for journalism where traditional funding models are struggling and for which there is a demonstrable need; including professional local reporting, specialist coverage, investigative journalism and initiatives which seek to diversify the media in Scotland.

• Support research co-operation with partners into key aspects of Scotland’s media landscape, with a view to developing business strategies and public policy which will provide the most supportive and diverse framework possible for the future of journalism.

• Advocate for such policies in wider Scottish society, and at every relevant level of government.

• Monitor developments and trends in Scottish journalism, including independent assessment of public spending on media platforms and its impact on the media landscape.

• Act as a one-stop-shop for information and co-ordination of journalism training.

• Provide a focal point and resource to champion media literacy education.

• Act as a forum for discussion and debate on all matters about the future health and well-being of independent journalism in Scotland.

Walker said the institute wanted to remain independent from government and pointed to arm’s length examples such as the state-funded Dutch Journalism Fund.

Walker said: “But to be successful, we need the support of a wide range of partners who recognise that journalism is a public good at the heart of a thriving, modern democracy.”