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Business / Shetland News joins The Scottish Beacon, a new collaborative journalism project

EIGHTEEN independent local and hyperlocal news publications serving urban and rural communities across Scotland have joined forces to create The Scottish Beacon, a new national publication that was launched earlier today (Thursday).

The Scottish Beacon news website is the first collaborative journalism outlet of its kind in the country. The aim is to strengthen the independent community-based media sector and bring stories from Scotland’s communities to a wider audience.

The website will spotlight articles on topics including community empowerment, social equality, local democracy and the environment – from Shetland in the north to Dumfries and Galloway in the south.

Shetland News managing editor Hans J Marter said: “For far too long local news has been ignored and side-lined in the regional and national press. The Scottish Beacon is an attempt of giving local and locally produced news its national voice back.

“This is a really important project, and we are very pleased to be part of it.”

The publications involved all have different structures and models. Some are non-profit, some are limited companies, some are sole traders.

Some of the publications are only in print, others digital, and many are both. All are independently-owned and produce original journalism in the public interest, firmly rooted in serving the communities in which they are based.

Other publications involved in the project at this stage include: The Bellman, Broughton Spurtle, C&B News, Clydesider, Crail Matters, The Edinburgh Reporter, Forres Local, The Ileach, Glenkens Gazette, Greater Govanhill, The Hawick Paper, Inverclyde Now, The Lochside Press, Midlothian View, Migrant Women Press and The Orkney News.

However, with many more independent publications out there, it is expected that membership numbers will continue to grow following the launch.

The Scottish Beacon network holds regular meetings, sharing resources, skills and working together to identify collaborative investigations.

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As many independent publications run on shoestring budgets, the project also hopes to re-invigorate local public interest news and overcome common challenges such as long-term sustainability.

Some of the Scottish Beacon partners during a first in-person meeting in Glasgow on 2 June (left to right): Rhiannon Davies (Greater Govanhill), Phyllis Stephen (Edinburgh Reporter), Julian Calvert (Lochside Press), Julie Middleton (Crail Matters), Zoe Greenfield (Freelance), Juliana Da Penha (Migrant Women Press), Alan McIntosh (Broughton Spurtle), Devon McCole (Greater Govanhill), Paul Fisher Cockburn (C&B News). Missing from the photo is Hans J Marter of Shetland News who didn’t make it to the photoshoot because the plane was late. Photo: Iain McLellan

Rhiannon J Davies, founder of Greater Govanhill community magazine and driving force behind Scottish Beacon said: “I truly believe that the future of journalism is collaborative.

“I developed the idea for this project after being inspired by similar established collaboratives in the US. But there are some brilliant community-based publications in Scotland – I’m really excited to see what we can do together.

“There’s been so many brutal cuts made by the corporate publishers to local news which mean that too often journalists working in distant newsrooms are reporting on communities they are not familiar with. It’s wild that just three publishers own the vast majority of local news publications, while big tech has hoovered up much of the traditional revenues streams.

“But I keep meeting these dedicated journalists – paid and voluntary – who provide a vital local service. They’re not doing it for the money, but because they care about their communities and because these stories matter.

“By collaborating on stories, and digging into national topics at a local level, we hope to amplify stories that too often go unheard, holding power to account and strengthening community voices.”

The project has been supported with funding from the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge Fund.

As well as the innovation of the collaboration itself, the project team have worked with evaluation consultants Matter of Focus, to incorporate impact tracking software, into their work. This allows them to track the impact on the participating publications, and the independent news sector as well as on audiences.

The publication will generate revenue through a mix of different income streams including through membership fees, partnerships, advertising and grant funding. It will use the engaged membership platform Beabee to involve readers in stories and determine future projects.

Executive director of the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) Jonathan Heawood said:

“At PINF, we were delighted to support the pilot print issue of The Scottish Beacon – the COP26 Special.

“And we’re even happier to see The Scottish Beacon becoming a permanent part of the media scene.

“Across Scotland, independent publishers are producing excellent journalism. They need a showcase for their work, and a network to support greater collaboration. The Scottish Beacon will provide both, and we look forward to seeing it flourish.”

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