The lifeblood of any healthy democracy is a living and active media landscape, one that contains objective and fearless voices that can hold government and service deliverers to account.
In Wales this is particularly important due the paucity of independent national platforms and on a local level as local titles shrink and ultimately disappear.
We know that the cost-of-living crisis is going to impact the news industry in Wales disproportionately, rendering existing titles unprofitable. With little sign of the economic situation improving in the short to medium turn, large companies who are headquartered in London and the USA will have little option but to reduce their losses, retreat to consolidated centres of operation.
This will lead to less local news and information and more generic centralised content that will be published in titles in Llandudno, Skegness, and Dundee.
The situation for digital news services is even more bleak. As companies and their titles seek to protect revenues derived from online advertising, their content strategies will pivot away from supplying news to delivering content designed to engage audiences, viral videos, kebab shop reviews, property listings and dreaded clickbait designed to drive people to pieces designed to create a reaction.
This shift poses a direct threat to democracy in Wales.
The need to develop an alternative to the existing commercial services, one that focuses on news and places a focus on reach over page views, is required more today than ever.
We want to build a business where people from a range of communities, within Wales and further afield, can have a sense of ownership in the service that serves them, and one that promises to invest profits into improving news and media services at both a local and national level. Particularly within communities that are currently underrepresented from a news perspective.
Wales has failed to grow hyperlocal news services and community radio stations, primarily due to the inability of new entrants to create sufficient revenues to set up and survive.
We wish to work with existing local news and media services and help them grow and allow them to support new ventures across Wales developing an independent Welsh news and media network.
Our business model is based on a mixture of income streams, primarily advertising and subscriptions but also through commercial partnerships and providing digital media services at commercial rates.
The company structure.
We are being advised by Cwmpas Cymru, formerly Wales cooperative centre, with regards creating the best company structure for Talking Wales.
Following our meeting with Cwmpas today we are looking at setting up as a society, specifically a community benefit society, these are businesses that are run for the benefit of the wider community, re-investing profits in the community.
Unlike traditional cooperative models the society exists to benefit the community, in our instance the citizens of Wales. Individuals can own shares in the society, and these shares can be cashed out a later date, institutions can also own shares, but the society operates under a one member one vote system, so if you have £50 of shares or £50,000 you will have equal voting rights at the AGM.
A society ensures transparency, and should we qualify as a charitable community benefit society – we wouldn’t be a registered charity but would be subject to some taxation regimes charities benefit from – We would be subject to annual audit.
Members (shareholders) will have a say in the running of Talking Wales and will be able to attend the Annual General Meeting where a board of directors will be elected annually.
It will allow for people living in Wales and further afield to own Talking Wales. Safe in the knowledge that company exists to improve the quality and depth of news reporting from a Welsh perspective.
Societies differ from companies in that they are administered by the Financial Conduct Authority
Our business plan and schedule is summarised below.
Autumn 2022, incorporate Talking Wales as community benefits society. Start the process of raising the initial required working capital of £500,000.
Start the recruitment process for an editor and commercial lead and commission the required technical services, website, mobile app and social media channels.
Once the editor is in place the process of recruiting the core editorial team will begin, this will ensure adequate geographic coverage, political and sports coverage.
We will be in a position to launch mid July 2023, with a team of 10 journalists, a small digital team and management and commercial team. This will give us two large national events in the space of a couple of weeks, The Royal Welsh Show and The National Eisteddfod, which will give us an opportunity to sign up subscribers and work with commercial partners.
The first year will require funding of around £500,000 with the second year seeing us run a deficit of £500,000, but by the third-year subscription and revenues will see us become profitable with years four and five seeing us pay off any existing debt and start returning a healthy profit.
We hope the business will, from year five onwards, generate annual profit of around £1,000,000 which will be reinvested to develop services that benefit communities across Wales.