Three years ago, almost to the day, following several conversations on and offline, I set about improving the news landscape of Wales.
With the support of hundreds of people via an initial crowdfunding effort and then Patreon I was able to research and develop a model for a sustainable news business that would emphasise public interest journalism.
In a partnership with Wales’s second largest local news publisher, Newsquest, The National Wales was published on the 1st of March 2021 along with a special print edition to coincide with the launch of the website.
The business model was based on a mix of subscription and advertising and was expected to become profitable during its third year of operation.
Unfortunately, the impact of the economic downturn and the accompanying cost of living crisis hit the general news industry very hard, and Newsquest decided to withdraw its support for the title in August 2022. It ceased publishing on the 31st of August 2022.
It was clearly a disappointing result and laid bare the risks of partnering with a company whose focus is purely commercial, as is the focus of the news industry in general today.
The whole experience, whilst painful at times, was an incredible learning curve. The difference between researching an industry and actually working in one is worlds apart, and I have taken those learnings and applied them to a new venture, one that doesn’t rely on support from a global news business whose focus is on making a profit above all else.
A revolution in news
How audiences access news has undergone a revolution over the past decade. More platforms and formats for the delivery of news have seen audiences fragment. Traditional news companies have struggled to adapt as sales of physical newspapers continue their decline and their efforts to make money online have forced many into producing populist inconsequential content at the expense of real news.
The biggest learning from my 18 months with The National Wales was the fact people do not read news online in the numbers required to generate sufficient advertising revenue, and the prevalence of advertising can make the user experience online painful.
Subscription is the most sustainable model and Talking Wales will be subscription-based, generating additional revenues from related commercial activities. But it will need time to build that subscription base, something The National wasn’t given. That’s why it is vital that we secure sufficient funding to cover our running costs for the first two years of operation.
The ethos of the business and the model of ownership is also central to our long-term success. As The National showed being beholden to the whims of a board of directors who don’t understand the importance of/care little for the public journalistic landscape of Wales just doesn’t work. That’s why Talking Wales is being set up as a Community Benefit Society.
A Community Benefit Society is a type of cooperative, it is owned by its members who all have an equal say in its running via an Annual General Meeting, it operates under a one-member-one-vote model, which ensures that individuals or institutions with a large shareholding don’t have more influence. Shares do not increase in value but they do accrue a modest level of interest.
Another key factor of Community Benefit Societies is that any profit generated is reinvested in the business for the benefit of the community it serves. We want to build a profitable business, one that can invest those profits into improving the provision of news in Wales.
A service that makes a difference
During my time with The National it became clear quite quickly that real news was read online, but not in the numbers you would imagine, as a subscription service that isn’t an issue, but if your business model is based on page views in order to generate revenues through advertising it places pressure you to publish content designed to drive the level of traffic required.
The value is in the content created, how it helps to inform Welsh citizens, and how it keeps legislators accountable at home and at Westminster. What a journalist in the Daily Telegraph or a Conservative MP from Kent thinks about Wales is irrelevant and promoting viral videos, however entertaining, is inconsequential.
The news cycle in Wales is still dominated, and driven by and large, by the news media in London. Much of the news from Wales is reactionary, responding to a report or a press release. How news is delivered is similar from one publisher to another. We want to change that.
Talking Wales will lead the national conversation. We’ll start that conversation every morning on our radio station and follow it as it develops during the day online.
We’ll share our news in different formats, so if reading a short Twitter thread is your thing, we’ll deliver it that way, or as a short video with text on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. You’ll be able to read about it in more detail online on our website.
Or if you prefer, have your news delivered every day by email and if there’s sufficient demand we’ll create a print edition available by mail order.
Our focus though will be on audio and video, we want to create articles and pieces that are easy to understand, and that give context to, what can sometimes appear to be, complex issues.
The biggest piece of learning I’ve taken on board over the past three years is that building the right team is critical, especially in its early stages. Having that understanding of Wales, its people, communities and challenges, having the relevant skills to report and deliver news in an array of formats.
We don’t want to create “just another news website” we want to create a service, one that can have an impact, that can make a difference.
With your support, we can make it happen.