Local Giving and the 500 Challenge

I recently secured a 25% discount for the Local Giving platform and wanted to promote the platform and an idea I have for community support for community radio, especially in light of the falling of income in the sector because of the economic response to Covid19.

Local Giving (localgiving.org) is a donation platform that has a few different options and opportunities for charities and not for profits, it can provide a platform for one off donations, regular donations or campaigns/appeals (similar to Just Giving etc).

For me, the two main differences between Local Giving and other platforms are:

  1. It’s a charity itself, with the mission to help groups generate income to support their organisations and projects, for me this means they are in it for the right reasons. They also receive other funding to run match funding campaigns, or their own grant programmes as well.
  2. Gift Aid! Because they are a charity, they are able to claim the Gift Aid on the donations. Even if you as an organisation are not a charity or are not separately eligible for Gift Aid, and this Gift Aid is returned to you. (Gift Aid is an extra donation from the government on behalf of the gifter IF they are a UK Taxpayer, and submit their full details.)
    details of how it works.

Now there are fees for using Local Giving, you have to have a membership fee which is normally £80+vat (although until June 2020 I’ve secured a 25% discount for Community Radio Station who use the promo code “RADIO25”). There are also payment transaction fees based on how people pay debit card, credit card, Paypal or even via direct debit. Details of their fees.

For me, the great opportunity for Local Giving is for regular donors, this could be “members” fees, volunteer donation system or supporter schemes. The platform can manage all of the details, have a place for you to track who has paid, and communicate with them, but with the Gift Aid its a great opportunity, there are already a couple of Community Radio stations who are using it.







The 500 Challenge

I’m setting the sector a challenge, and that’s to see if you can get your community to help fund you. The sector already receives £1.6million in donations every year, an average of about £6,500 per station (Ofcom Market Report 2018), and I wonder if we can generate more from our communities. This is in part inspired by the podcast sector that asks their audience to contribute, but also how media is paid for in other countries. But also by more and more print, journalism and hyperlocal news publishers going down a similar route. (Examples include The Guardian, local newspapers like the Sidmouth Herald and the Bedford Independent)

The premise is this, can you find 500 people in your local area to give you a minimum of £1 a month to help run your station?

It’s quite simple as a concept, but no doubt quite hard in delivery, with its message and positioning, on-air and online/social media. You don’t want to be seen to be begging, and there is always a conflict between local charitable organisations such as food banks, homeless shelters and hospices, and Community Radio which can generate income in many diverse ways, including advertising.

However, I truly believe that good, locally or interest-driven Community Radio needs to be valued by its community, and in such supported by that community as well.

But also the money can add up. Assume the £1 from 500 of your community per month, that’s £6,000 per year BEFORE you consider the Gift Aid (or the fees). For most stations that would cover Ofcom, PPL/PRS and other basic costs such as phone & internet etc. More importantly, it’s Off-Air income, which means it helps with your 50/50 split on commercial On-Air vs other income.

So my challenge to the sector is to engage with your community and see if you can encourage them to support you. This can have long term benefits and growth, as you can also have a list of people to develop that relationship with, they can become loyal listeners, you could offer them discounts or exclusive access, and you can also look to grow. Not only in the numbers, but in the value.

Please let me know if you want to take up this challenge, how you get on and if you need any help!


The end of three tiers of education, from innovation to demise in 50 years?

Education is changing in Bedfordshire, and in some sense, we are maybe seeing the end of an era. That being the end of Middle Schools and the three-tier education system.

But first, you may be asking what are Middle Schools and the three-tiers?

They came out of the Plowden Report in the 1960’s, and promoted by Sir Alex Clegg, an educationalist who conceptualised them as a developmental opportunity for children.

Sir Alec Clegg the Educationalist.

The original concept that Mike Berrill the Executive Principal of Biddenham School believed in.

They were also an opportunity to increase capacity in Schools following the change of Schooling age, the move to comprehensive teaching approach and the increase in the population of the baby boomers.

Not all counties embraced Middle Schools or adopted the three-tier system, and in Bedfordshire, it was only North and Mid Beds (Now Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire) that changed, whilst Luton stayed two-tier.

By why the decline in middle schools? and the transition back to Primary and Secondary two-tier?

Middle Schools peaked in the early 1980’s with around 1400 in 49 local education authorities across England (Hansard), today there are estimated to be only just over 100 still open.  (National Middle Schools Forum)

The decline could be correlated with the introduction of the national curriculum in 1988, a radio change to teaching practice, and more importantly exams normally referred to as SATS.

The testing points didn’t align with the three-tier system, and many teachers raise a concern about what is sometimes described as coasting, where Lower and Middle Schools stop pushing the children in their older years because they have no accountability at that point, and seen as one of the main disadvantages of the system today.

Abigail Gosling qualified teacher and senior lecturer of education at the University of Bedfordshire describes.

Across Bedfordshire, the transition from three-tier to two-tier has been long and complicated.

Bedford Borough at the end of this years academic year see’s the final transition to a fully two-tier system, but it’s a process that’s taken over 10 years. In the 2010’s there was a big drive for change, driven by the disadvantages above and imparticular that Bedford’s results were lower than national averages, although this is compounded by a high number of private or specialist Schools across the borough that requires the most gifted and talented. The campaign for change was also aided by a promise over £100 Million pounds in funding as from the Labour governments building schools for the future fund.

In 2009 there was a close vote in the council, with the change in schooling winning 19 votes to 17. However, the following year these plans changed with the election of the coalition government, as one of the first major changes they made was to scrap the programme. Bedford could not move forward without this vital funding and it wasn’t until just 3 years ago when the Borough unanimously voted re-established this policy of change following the elected Mayor promising £25 million pounds of funding to support the transition.

In Central Bedfordshire, it’s a very different picture, over 10 years ago the council adopted a policy of keeping middle schools, this was following a large public consultation with the overwhelming feeling of residents reluctant to any change.

Lower, Middle and Upper Catchment Areas of Central Bedfordshire

However, some schools decided to go ahead anyway via the academy route. The academisation of schools has disrupted the education system in the UK, whereas before they were local authority funded and controlled, once a school becomes an academy it is funded and the responsibility to the government directly under the Department of Education. This meant that schools could become academies and regardless of local educational policies then convert to Primary or Secondary schools.

This process impacted in some areas of Central Bedfordshire as there was no local plan or support, and in particular in Dunstable, the largest town in Central Beds saw three middle schools close in 2016, as a direct result of other local schools becoming academies and changing to primary and secondary school

Last year the council changed it’s stance and now has a policy to actively support schools that want to make the transition, and only recommend that new schools being built follow the two-tiered Primary and Secondary approach to help accommodate the thousands of homes being built across the county.

This new policy has created what they refer to as ‘locality clusters’ were local areas, the towns and smaller rural villages work together to create a local plan that takes account of new housing developments and also is designed to not impact other clusters or ideally schools within their own cluster.

However, this hasn’t always been the case and it is causing a negative impact on families. Lesley and her family live in Sandy, and the Middle School that her Son goes to is about to close.

Lesley and Harry are now faced with a decision, for him to stay in his new secondary until he leaves school, or stay for two years before joining his sister at Samual Whitbread Academy in the next Town, which is a bigger upper school and which Lesley feels is a much better environment for her son, but at that point he would have changed schools 3 times in 4 years, or the more drastic choice of moving house.

Sandye Place Academy is set to close at the end of the 2019 academic year.

But it’s not just families that are being impacted, it is effecting teachers as well, the headteachers and other educationalists I spoke to told me of staff they knew who were leaving Bedford Borough to continue teaching in the three-tier system or even taking early retirement. Common concerns being raised include having to teach years younger than they were comfortable with or suddenly faced with the challenge of teaching GCSE’s after a career in middle schools.

None of these teachers were willing to be interviewed on the record, but one who was happy to speak to me anonymously shared her concerns as a teacher and as a parent about the loss of innocence of children with the end of the middle schools, and how personally she is moving to a new school in September to stay in a middle school environment.

Of course with any change, there will always be someone negatively impacted, and we just have to hope that children who only ever get one chance at school don’t have any long term repercussions.


Immersive and Addictive Technologies: In-game Spending, Loot Boxes and Gateways to Gambling

(University of Westminster – MA Multimedia Journalism submission 2019)

Radio 4 Series – Immersive and Addictive Technologies

Are Loot Boxes bad for gaming and bad for society, and what are the other impacts of the online and in-game economy.

Martin Steers continues his exploration of the issues being raised during the Department for Digital Media Culture and Sport (DCMS) inquiry into immersive and addictive technologies.

We hear about Henry a young gamer who racked up a debt on his father Ben’s credit card and the impact it’shad on them as a family.

We find out more about the loot box and the games industry with the help of gaming journalist Ryan Brown (Link: https://twitter.com/toadsanime ), and explore further the impact and possible links to gambling with former gaming addict Cam Adair, who is the founder of the worlds largest peer support network https://gamequitters.com/

We discuss the current legislation in the UK, and how the issues have been dealt with by other countries with the thoughts of Labour MP for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner, who was one of the first MP’s to start talking about
the loot box in parliament.

You can find out more about the DCMS inquiry, read submitted evidence and watch back the committee hearings, including testimony from academics, the games industry and experts, like experienced gamers from Games Quitters here. (Link:
https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/immersive-technologies/ )

If you or a someone you know has been impacted by gambling you can get support at https://www.gamcare.org.uk/

Further links:
BBC News – Loot boxes ‘link to problem gambling’
BBC News – ‘I spent £700 on loot boxes in a month’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-47470182
BBC Radio 4 – Why loot crates are luring you in to spend your money

Martin Steers
Contributions from:
Cam Adair
Ryan Brown
Daniel Zeichner
Ben Hart
Henry Hart
With additional thanks to the Centre for Computer History (Link: http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/ )



SSDAB Consultation – My Response

My response to the SSDAB Consultation.

The DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) have been running a consultation on the licensing of SSDAB (Small Scale DAB – which I have started calling “local DAB” at the recommendation of those involved with the trial, although as it’s a DCMS consultation I will refer to as SSDAB here).

The consultation document can be found here:  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/small-scale-dab-licensing-consultation and the consultation documentation here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/671660/Small_Scale_DAB_Consultation.pdf

The CMA are also doing their own survey that can be found here: https://goo.gl/forms/F6mv0wTNae7WfXqa2

Now I recommend you respond to the CMA survey, but also consider doing your own response, as the more voices there are (and ideally more from the Community sector) the stronger the response.

Feel free to use my response as a starting point of your own, copy & edit as you may like. (although I would love to know if you do)

My response

1. DCMS would welcome views on whether reserving capacity on small-scale radio multiplexes for community radio stations is the best way of securing carriage for these types of services on mini-muxes. Do you agree with the principle?


Surely the best way of securing carriage for community radio stations is to make sure that the multiplexes are run by the community or not for profit and finding a way of making sure that the platform is affordable and accessible to community radio stations. However, reserving capacity for community radio stations would be a prudent idea, however maybe consider going stronger and make it a condition of the multiplex operators that they have to carry, and that they can not price the stations out of being on the platform.

2. DCMS welcome views on whether there should be an upper limit placed on the amount of capacity reserved for community radio services. Should this be a single figure applicable across all multiplexes?


There shouldn’t be an upper limit no, because each area may have a different amount of community stations, ideally, Ofcom should see how many community stations or possible community stations (based on their current EOI experience), to set how much capacity should be reserved. Also, that capacity needs to be of a reasonable quality and can not simply be set at the lowest possible. They certainly should define a one size fits all approach.

3. Do you agree with the principle that small-scale radio multiplex operators should be able to offer unused capacity reserved for community radio services on a temporary basis?


Yes, I have no issue with operators offering the unused capacity to temporary services, and in fact welcome and encourage this opportunity as a form of digital RSL’s, a great opportunity for events, activities or even for communities to trail broadcasting.

4. DCMS would welcome views on these proposals and on the interaction with the existing community radio licensing regime.


I welcome the consideration for a C-DSP license, however, the following needs to be considered:

The community radio fund is already oversubscribed and is currently not fit for purpose or as designed when it was originally launched, there is simply not enough in the fund for the current 250 Community Radio stations. IF you are proposing that all these extra stations (which no one has any estimate of how many there could be, but we could be looking at hundreds of digital only stations) suddenly has access to the Community Radio Fund then that fund needs to be double as a minimum, and ideally increased even beyond that, also the fund needs to be future proofed, as there is no guarantee that it will exist from general election to general election, and needs to be increased each year in line with inflation but also as the number of eligible stations increase.

Also, you mention access to “lower fees” in the second but last paragraph before this question, but don’t say fees for what, are we to assume Ofcom fees? Multiplex carriage fees? Or music royalty fees? If the answer is yes to all three, then I can see an advantage to this license.

I would welcome an introduction of a C-DSP license as a way to clearly identify community stations over commercial stations, however I do not feel that the benefits (access to reserved capacity, lower undefined fees and access to an already over subscribed community radio fund) outweigh the negatives of restricting the amount of income you can generate from on air advertising and having to deliver key commitments, one point is I think currently CR stations HAVE to have their studio located within the coverage area, there are already CR stations broadcasting on the trial services outside of their studio area, as a way of reaching new audiences and providing them with additional choice and services. Surely the opportunities for SSDAB are for stations to try and do things differently and innovate in a digital age.

I would welcome a C-DSP license that has the criteria that they must be not for profit and as an organisation meet the current criteria for analog licensed stations, maybe introduce some key commitments that provide opportunities, not limitations on what the station can do, and provide access to the positives as listed above. I feel strongly against any restrictions on income generation, as I feel that could be setting these stations up to fail.

5. DCMS would welcome views on this approach and whether it deals with the concerns raised about access to small-scale DAB radio multiplexes by community radio services


I feel strongly that the multiplex operators should be not for profit, and was a “non-commercial” element part of the legislation and debate in parliament. I do not feel that this will restrict the growth of this new platform, as it hasn’t restricted the growth of community radio. There is no reason why current community and commercial broadcasters cannot form separate not for profit organisations (ideally in partnership) to hold and operate the multiplex license.

Whilst reserving capacity for community broadcasters is a good step, how does that actually stop them being priced out of the platform? A commercial operator could set the price too high, wait for the community broadcaster to decline to be on the platform and then petition Ofcom to release that capacity as the community broadcaster isn’t using it.

Equally, whilst transparent pricing is a viable option, what will it actually do? Because if there is only one SSDAB multiplex in the area, it won’t do anything for competition or to balance or drive prices down.

What powers or regulation is Ofcom going to have over the pricing of the license?

Equally, I welcome the consideration that pricing could be submitted as part of the license application, however, I do not think that the application process has been discussed at this point. Will the operators that can offer the lowest pricing be a deciding factor in who might receive the license?

6. DCMS would welcome views on this approach.


I am not opposed to organisations holding more than one license, and I agree that it can help with growth and sustainability, however I really only hold that view, If the license is held by a not for profit organisation, as this would help to secure the platform for the benefit of the communities and not just for commercial gain or commercial interest. Its an open secret that the current model of local DAB is not really fit for purpose, and that the carriage fees are quite often extremely high, too high for community broadcasters, and even some commercial licenses, in fact, we have recently seen commercial stations maybe under threat of their FM license because they have come off the local DAB license which was used to secure auto-renewal / long FM license award. Currently, local DAB has a license to charge as much as they can, and almost hold the BBC and local commercial stations to ransom because they have to be on their platform. We do not what to develop an environment in which the same activity and behaviour can happen, as this would only see the platform become unsuitable for community stations.

I do not believe that any current national or local DAB license holder should be able to hold any share in an SSDAB license, but if we must compromise than limit them to 25% share, and not for any license for which they have any share of a local DAB license.

7. Do you agree with this two-step approach to delineating the size of small-scale multiplexes?


No, I don’t agree with the two-step approach, I have no issue with the first point, and actually using SSDAB as an opportunity to provide coverage in areas that are not currently served with a local service is fantastic. However, I have issues with the second step concerning coverage in an existing local service, which is answered in question 8.

8. Do you agree with the up to 40% limit in areas already served by a local multiplex; if not, why not and what alternative do you propose?


No, as I do not believe that an arbitrary 40% coverage as a one size fits all approach will work, we have seen with the trials that some of the coverage is really problematic and people can struggle with the indoor reception in the towns that they are serving. I believe as part of the application process you should outline what target area you want to cover and show why that works as a proposal, if Ofcom agrees with that proposal then they should be allowed the coverage and power to enable them to be received by all households in that intended area.

Without doing an analysis of all the local DAB licenses its hard to fully map out, but what we do not want to happen, is find that a town or area of a large city cannot get the desired reception because it would take them to 41% coverage of the local multiplex.

I believe that on the whole SSDAB should be setup to cover towns / cities & parts of large cities, as well as a section of rural communities (in part as outlined as the first step), and not really designed to provide a regional or large alternative to the local DAB, and do not feel that a 40% rule which can only be seen to serve as protection against the established local DAB actually does anything to support or develop SSDAB

9. DCMS would be grateful for views on these options or other options along with reasons for your choice.


I do not see the need to have small license lengths for SSDAB, and in fact feel that short licenses make SSDAB less sustainable or desirable for operators, surely the longer the license the longer the operator has to cover setup/capital costs as well as overheads with the ability to negotiate better terms for transmitter locations and service contracts. Not to mention the length of the multiplex license has an impact on any radio service looking to launch or develop the be on that platform, services will want the ability to be able to broadcast for as long as possible, again to offset setup and capital costs.

I feel that the minimum license should be at least 12 years with the option of continuous  renewal in line with current government policy, and how national and local multiplex licenses are operated

10. We would also welcome view on the merits of linking license length with underlying demand in an area for a small scale multiplex license.

If this question addresses the point in the narrative that areas with low demand to have a greater license length to provide stability than yes that is a good idea, however, if you are suggesting that in areas of high demand that the license length should be shortened to maybe enable other operators a chance, that produces far too much uncertainty on service broadcasters to plan for the length of their own services.

11. DCMS welcome views on this approach.


I have no issue with allowing the BBC to have coverage on SSDAB, and in fact it might provide a good opportunity for them to provide coverage for existing services and also provide additional services (long-term and temporary) to fit certain needs, I also do not have a problem with the BBC owning or part owning an SSDAB multiplex license, and in fact a partnership between the BBC and local community and maybe even commercial stations might be a great opportunity for all parties.

12. DCMS would welcome views on the implications of this approach.


I do not feel that Ofcom should consider the impact SSDAB has on local multiplexes. The worse case is that local license owners might find some services moving off their platform so they can be served by SSDAB as it fits their purpose (and finances) better, or that local licenses find they have to lower their fees to enable them to “compete” with SSDAB services, I think both of these outcomes are actually a benefit to the entire sector, and why I don’t feel Ofcom should consider the impact of an SSDAB license on the local DAB license.


How can digital journalism face the pressure to be profitable

What is the future of digital journalism; with a disruption in the traditional business model of journalism and an evolving digital media landscape, we need to explore and examine how organisations and individuals delivering journalism can raise an income and be profitable.

Digital advertising on local and regional newspaper is falling, it has fallen 3.4% 2016-2017 reported by the Press Gazette (Ponsford 2017a), that’s despite data showing that the traffic to these same websites has increased “40 per cent year on year to 11.6m unique browsers per day at the end of 2016” (Ponsford 2017a), this is troubling for a sector that is pursuing a largely digital focused strategy to develop their online presence against the cost of print and its decline in revenues. This goes against the growth in the digital advertising market of just over 17% in the last year (Ponsford 2017a), however its where that growth is going that is the problem for the industry.

This growth in digital advertising is being swallowed by the two global platforms of Facebook and Google, the ‘Duopoly’ as they are referred to by Freddy Mayhew from the Press Gazette “is already taking the lion’s share of new digital advertising revenue” (Mayhew 2007a) and they are predicted to take over 70% of the advertising money spent online by 2020 (Mayhew 2007a). These two giants have been estimated by the Press Gazette to already taken £1bn in advertising revenue that traditionally went to newspapers (Ponsford 2017a). This shows that for other publishers and platforms the digital space is increasing harder to make money from, and additionally due to get harder for those that use advertising schemes such as programmatic advertising.

Programmatic advertising is the concept of computers dealing with the purchase of advertising space automatically to a set of conditions (price / availability etc) set by publishers and advertisers (Rogers 2017) and “has become the dominant way to trade digital media because it matches ads to people on a truly vast scale” (Graves 2017). One major issue that this type of advertising is going to face in 2018 is the introduction of the EU’s new regulation the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), these new rules increase the power of individuals over their own data and use of data about them, and increase the responsibilities on companies and organisations that use individual’s data, in essence individuals need to actively ‘opt in’ for anyone to create, use or share their data or data about them. This would make programmatic advertising conceivably impossible because of the consent requirements users would need to give in order for them to be targeted by adverts. This could see the resurgence of traditional spot placement adverts and development of GDPR compliant, advertiser and customer friendly advertising platforms. “GDPR is likely to shift advertising away from the algorithmic models of communicating, back toward a simpler form of advertising, relying on less volume and better-quality data.” (Roy 2017)

Paywalls and digital subscription services.

Paywalls are the process of blocking access to your content except for those readers who wish to pay for it, often sites that use paywalls will enable people to read the start of an article, a way to tease them into subscribing.

In the UK the Telegraph is one such site that operates a paywall, with subscription costing between £1 and £6 a week depending on deals and if the subscriber wants a daily digital edition of the newspaper (Telegraph 2018). The Telegraph do not advertise or share how many subscribers they have but are following a plan to try and increase the number to 10m registered users, with the Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group Nick Hugh telling the Financial Times “Registration would give the company a clearer idea of who its readers are, as well as valuable data to power other products and services… Registration is a step towards making money out of [our] visitors” (Garrahan 2017). The Financial Times itself operates a paywall, and was one of the first when it launched theirs in 2002, their subscriptions which are seen as some of the highest between £5 and £9 per, although they do share many articles online free to access. The key to their success, reported over 900,000 paying subscribers (Weissman 2018) is working out what content makes the reader return, they give each reader an ‘engagement score’ “which triangulates how recently that subscriber or trial member visited the FT‘s website with how long they stayed and their frequency on the site” (Weissman 2018) this data enables the FT to work out which of their content works and why, all with the aim to grow the numbers of their subscribers.

One issue with any news platform that requires payment in order to receive the content is that in the Reuters Institute 2017 report they found from their survey, supported by additional data from focus groups and dairies that users have “a continued reluctance to pay for online news in any form – overall more than eight in ten (84%) have not paid in the last year” (Newman et al, 2017, P24), in the UK only 3% have paid for a news subscription in the last year (Newman et all, 2017, P34).

Community Membership and ‘Reader’ supported schemes

Receiving direct funding or income from your ‘readers’ is relatively new, The Guardian newspaper launched their membership scheme in 2014 which sees readers and supporters give on a monthly basis, but they also ask for one off donations via their supporter pages. The Guardian claim that they now receive more money from its readers than advertising, with “more than 300,000 readers are now paying it at least £5 a month as supporters and members… [and they] received more than 300,000 individuals, one-off contributions over the past 12 months” (Mayhew 2017b). This empowerment of the readers to feel part of the organisation, and as such share its values, ethics and editorial approach, and believe in the content and agenda of the organisation, and such a scheme could be very effective with other news brands and organisations. This concept creates a different dynamic between the readers and the organisation, different to other more direct forms of reader support such as buying of print or subscriptions / paywall, as David Pemsel the Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group told The Guardian “the banner of membership could be a whole number of different iterations about how we build deeper relationships with our readers and get them to make a greater contribution” (Jackson 2016).

Another membership scheme is that of the co-operative, now sometimes being referred as ‘stakeholder media’ the concept that members part own, they contribute to not only the finances but organisation, management and agenda setting.

The Bristol cable is one of the UK’s most well-known examples of these emerging media ownership models, their founding principle is that “journalism is a public asset and therefore should be free at the point of access” (Sheffield 2017), they are a democratically organised member led, their members contribute on average £2.70 a month and they reported they had received their 1,900th member in December 2017. The ‘profitability’ or moreover the sustainability of this model still needs to be explored, in The Cables case they have received additional funding from grants and also currently pay a small number of staff minimum wage and with others such as contributors and illustrators paid a flat rate for their work. There also needs consideration on how operations such as The Cable run democratically and in essence when you move possible editorial and business concerns from single owners or boards to thousands of members, as Sandi Dheensa one of its members told the Independent “Membership means I can vote on things like where the paper is heading, advertising ethics, where to seek funding, what sorts of topics the paper should focus on” (Sheffield 2017).

Hyperlocal, Community Media or Not for profit

One concept that in fact challenges the concept of ‘profitability’ is that of the not for profit media organisation. The concept being that the organisation is serving a purpose, normally the journalistic values to support their local community or a community of interest. There are also those who wish to be independent to not chase profits for shareholders or owners but to pay themselves a sustainable wage. Within journalism directly this is seen within the community and hyperlocal journalism sector, a budding and growing sector which has seen the launch of its own trade body the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) to “The network will advocate and lobby on behalf of independent news publishers across the country and fight for better opportunities for all.”(Meese 2017a) and represent the over 400 hyperlocal and independent publications. (Abbott 2016). Over 40 community media organisations identified in London, newspapers, radio stations and websites / blogs with “most cases they are guided by their social purpose and not by profit” (Merryfield 2017).

In Community Radio, the essence is not for profit that enables the majority to access grants to provide training, access to platform and content for their audiences, which sees around 25% of its income from these grants, and most having a mixed approach also receiving donations and advertising. (Ofcom 2017). Grants can be a very powerful way to develop funding, but are linked not only to not for profit but also to outcomes, so need to be considered with the outcome to develop or sustain local journalism and a purpose to support their communities.

Government funding

In the UK the Government provides funding for journalistic activities, at its core this is funded by the TV License Fee as a form of taxation, which saw £3,787m (BBC 2017) collected on behalf of the BBC.

The BBC itself is a publisher of digital journalism, and not only does it commercially sell its content and operate platforms outside of the UK, but individuals and independent contractors and production companies can make money out of the BBC with many profitable ‘indies’ taking a share of the over £430m (BBC 2017) that the BBC has spent on the independent sector, and whilst exact figures are not clear some of this will have been spent on commissioned documentaries, journalistic features and external reporters.

The most recent development in government subsidy of journalism is the launching of the Local Democracy Reporters scheme, a partnership between the BBC and local newspapers and news organisations, it sees the BBC funding up to £8m a year to around 60 separate organisations such as radio, online media and traditional regional news companies for them to employ just under 150 reporters to create stories based on local government and council activities and “support the scrutiny our news organisations provide for the way public money is spent by local councils and authorities – which is a fundamental part of our local democracy” Ashley Highfield Chairman of the News Media Association who helped setup the scheme told the industry news site Hold the Front page (HTFP) (Sharman 2017a) , with this content then being shared to a wider network of over 700 media organisations as part of the Scheme. (BBC 2017). A lot of these contracts have been awarded to the traditional regional print groups, and with the Government via the BBC funding some core reporting areas it frees up resources in those organisations to create other content, not to mention the other advertising and income generating opportunities from was is effectively state funded content. This government funding has received some criticism, with people expressing that its state aid to support failing traditional media, and why it might not have been better spent on alternative or community journalism. Stephen Kingston stated to HTFP that “This so-called scheme for local democracy reporters looks to us like a total sham. The news groups that have benefited from BBC funding have been sacking journalists for years in the relentless pursuit of more profit.” (Sharman 2017b)

In conclusion, a diverse approach should be considered for any publisher, journalist or media organisation to be ‘profitable’, aside from considerations of the not for profit and community media model which can successfully see journalism succeed in some of its core principles such as holding power to account, while also employing people to write and create the content. The industry needs to consider the change in trends, is the paywall or subscription service sustainable, especially with a growing generation that expect free news provided to them via platforms such as Facebook and Google who are taking more and more of the digital advertising market.

The future for media publishers, should be to consider engaging with their readers via membership or donation schemes, maybe offering online content free online but with a paid for digital subscription of any print publication or dedicated digital layout.

Also, whilst continuing to peruse the digital advertising revenue, as with the possible changes because of GDPR and the Press Gazettes campaign against the Duopoly of Facebook and Google (Ponsford 2017b) there is still hope that online advertising might still help sustain and may in fact provide the profit where all other costs are covered elsewhere.


Bibliography and works used to inform.

Abbott, M (2016) ONE SECTOR, ONE VOICE: a representative network for the community news sector. Centre for Community Journalism 8th December 2016. Available from https://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/news/one-sector-one-voice-a-representative-network-for-the-community-news-sector/

BBC (2017) BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2016/17. London: BBC. Available from http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/reports/pdf/bbc-annualreport-201617.pdf

BBC (2017) BBC announces media organisations which will employ Local Democracy Reporters as latest step in the Local News Partnerships. BBC Media Centre 7th December 2017. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Garrahan, M (2017) Telegraph sets goal of 10m registered users. Financial Times 20th December 2017. Available from https://www.ft.com/content/4312368c-e4a6-11e7-97e2-916d4fbac0da  .

Graves, R. (2017) GDPR will Trigger a Massive Transformation of Programmatic Advertising Medium 20th June 2017. Available from https://medium.com/@rupert.graves/gdpr-will-trigger-a-massive-transformation-of-programmatic-advertising-48492815f01f [Accessed 16 January 2018].

Jackson, J (2016) Guardian’s losses hit £69m but it gains more than 50,000 paying members. The Guardian 27th July 2016. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jul/27/guardian-losses-members

Mayhew, F (2017a) Guardian to go tabloid on 15 January as editor Kath Viner says it will hit break-even next year. PressGazette 7th December 2017. Available from http://pressgazette.co.uk/guardian-to-go-tabloid-on-15-january-as-editor-kath-viner-says-it-will-hit-break-even-next-year/

Mayhew, F. (2017b) Guardian says money from readers has overtaken advertising as it boasts 500,000 paying supporters. PressGazette 26th October 2017. Available from http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/guardian-says-money-from-readers-has-overtaken-advertising-as-it-boasts-500000-paying-supporters-and-subscribers/

Merryfield, A. (2017). London’s vibrant alternative media – The LDNCommMedia Report Social Spider CIC / Centre for Community Journalism. Available from https://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/research/9367/ [Accessed 16 January 2018].

Meese, E (2017a) ICNN – The Independent Community News Network now open for members. Centre for Community Journalism. 18th July 2017. Available from https://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/icnn/icnn-the-independent-community-news-network-now-open-for-members/

Meese, E (2017) What does the BBC Local Democracy Reporter Scheme mean for hyperlocals and community news publishers? Centre for Community Journalism 2nd February 2017. Available from https://www.communityjournalism.co.uk/news/what-does-the-bbc-local-democracy-reporter-scheme-mean-for-hyperlocals-and-community-news-publishers/

Newman N et al. (2017). Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017. Available from https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Digital%20News%20Report%202017%20web_0.pdf

Ofcom (2017) The Communications Market Report 2017 Office of Communications 3rd August 2017. Available from https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0014/105440/uk-radio-audio.pdf

Ponsford, D. (2017a) Regional press online ad revenue fell in 2016 despite 40 per cent digital audience growth as Google/Facebook cashed in. PressGazette 25th April 2017. Available from http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/regional-press-online-ad-revenue-fell-in-2016-despite-40-per-cent-digital-audience-growth-as-googlefacebook-cashed-in/

Ponsford, D (2017b) Press Gazette launches Duopoly campaign to stop Google and Facebook destroying journalism. PressGazette 10th April 2017. Available from http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/press-gazette-launches-duopoly-campaign-to-stop-google-and-facebook-destroying-journalism/

Rogers, C (2017). What is programmatic? A beginner’s guide. Marketing Week, 27th March. Available from https://www.marketingweek.com/2017/03/27/what-is-programmatic/  .

Roy, M. (2017). GDPR: The Death Knell For Programmatic Advertising? AdExchanger, 8th September. Available from https://adexchanger.com/data-driven-thinking/gdpr-death-knell-programmatic-advertising/ [Accessed 16 January 2018].

Sharman, D (2017a). Bidding opened for BBC local democracy reporter contracts. HoldTheFrontPage, 13th September 2017. Available from https://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2017/news/bidding-opened-for-bbc-local-democracy-reporter-contracts/

Sharman, D (2017b). Hyperlocals blast BBC democracy reporter scheme as ‘total sham’. HoldTheFrontPage, 18th December 2017. Available from https://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2017/news/hyperlocals-say-bbc-democracy-reporter-scheme-a-total-sham/  .

Sheffield, H. (2017) Bristol Cable: the local investigative journalism co-op training citizens to hold power to account. Independent. 7th December 2017. Available from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/indyventure/bristol-cable-local-news-journalism-investigation-co-op-a8083496.html

The Telegraph (2018) Subscription page. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/subscriptions/  .

Weissman, C. (2018) You Say Paywalls Are Back? For The FT, They Never Went Away Fast Company 12th January 2018. Available https://www.fastcompany.com/40514008/you-say-paywalls-are-back-for-the-ft-they-never-went-away

Community Radio Annual Reports

Gone are the days that CR stations had to create an submit a detailed annual report to Ofcom, in fact, one of the tasks I had when I did a work placement with the CR team at Ofcom was to read some of these reports. They were fantastic documents that showcased what the station had done that year, achievements on and off air and how the station was really benefitting and supporting their local community. It was also great to see how many stations promoted those reports on their websites and shared with their communities (and wider stakeholders we would assume) – Now all CR stations have to do if file a finance document and a tick sheet to say they have or haven’t stuck to their Key Commitments.

Whats more of a shame is that without that mandate a lot of stations don’t seem to really publish anything like this anymore, and I think that’s a missed opportunity!

Charities in the UK are regulated to produce an annual report to the Charities Commission (and share with their trustees, members, and wider stakeholders), now the trend for many years is for these reports to be shiny, packed full of pictures, testimonials, and impact statements, they are using them as an opportunity to shout about what they are doing, how and why – almost a manifesto of their organisation, going far beyond whats needed or required of them.

There is an opportunity for Community Radio to do the same, why? For the same reason that the Charity sector is. Not only do these documents become a record of what you have done, they speak a lot more about your achievements, your aims, and purpose. They become a fantastic resource to engage with all your key and wider stakeholders;

  • Share with your audience.
  • Share amongst all your presenters and volunteers to help give them a bigger picture and their role in it.
  • Share with all your key funders and advertisers so they can understand the impact of their support.
  • Send to anyone and everyone you receive support or want to receive support from, local MPs, Councillors, Schools, Colleges and big companies and organisations.

Then whilst you are at it, why not submit it to the Community Radio Awards!, shameless plug aside, if you need anything else to motivate you then why not that. I have said since the inception that the written element of the Station of the Year entry is a great starting point for your station’s annual report, and if you do nothing more would be a fantastic document to fit that purpose.

So I throw down the challenge, to encourage and recommend that all Community Radio stations consider writing an annual report and please do let me know how you get on.

You can find advice from the NCVO on how to write an annual report here.

Below is the 2017 Gold recipient of Station of the Years written reports (full details can be found here 2017 Gold Entries)

Please comment below with your thoughts as to what could be included in a report or links to your report!

Agenda for the future of Community Radio / Media

This is just an opportunity for me to get on my chest my current thoughts on the issues and areas of development for the sector. (I might use Radio / Media as interchangeable in this piece)

Just my views, and these are not always things I have the answers to, but by working together I feel we can make progress.



As a sector, we need to develop our skills on applying for grants, which can often be seen as a dark art form with secret handshakes. It’s not but it does need skills, experience, and knowledge, not only do we need to upskill the sector but we need to do more to share insight and best practice.

We also need to slowly change the hearts and minds of grant bodies/boards, so they understand more about what community radio is and it’s impact in our communities. Wouldnt it be great if you didn’t need to explain community radio, or more importantly they don’t instantly say NO because its come from a community radio station.

On that note, we need to do more to develop relationships with the big funders, the likes of national lottery etc to get more for the sector.

Community Media Fund

It’s something that’s been talked about for some time, I have certainly been seriously discussing it for a couple of years, but the current DCMS/Ofcom Radio Fund is unfortunately not fit for purpose. We need a few people to come together to launch a community media fund that any group can pitch to for development and project stuff, that includes content, equipment, staff etc. Although I suspect it’s not sustainable to have a fund that just covers core costs alone, something that goes above the current radio fund!

I will be honest, this is an area that I am really considering at the moment, I really welcome peoples thoughts on it.


We need to keep an eye on the moves to the deregulation of commercial radio, as this will impact the community sector as there were questions about that. I suspect they might try and create an obligation towards local news and information, and this needs to be fought, as that does not fit all community radio. I think we also need a considered conversation about what regulation there is community radio, does it work and does it need to change. Most will know I am a firm supporter of the ’50 percent’ rule, but I do think there are things that need changing, like the no advertising at all rule needs to be removed.

Post-2020, we need to start working on making sure legislation is in place for those stations who are due to hit the limit of their license at that point (or thereabouts), also do we need to question the five-year license anyway? Should CR licenses not be for ten years with extensions, do we need to consider the impact of the digital migration (as I refer to it) and what FM will actually look like in ten years time anyway.

Local DAB

Local DAB as I agree I think it should be called going forward (as opposed to SSDAB, see my previous blog about that), is still not here!

We are awaiting the ‘consultation’ that will be short, but we need to make sure it reflects the needs and interests of the sector, we can’t waste this opportunity to safeguard the platform for community good. Now that’s not to exclude commercial operators or partners as I believe that actually by working together between the community and commercial radio we can make local DAB a massive success.

Music Royalties

Community Radio

We have to pay for the music we use, I have no issue with that, and it seems the sector has moved more in that direction in the last 18 months than ever before (I haven’t seen anyone claiming free rights for ages! and no that’s not a challenge!). However, I must admit I was recently inspired by an actual rational conversation about challenging the minimum fees and also the percentages. This won’t be an easy battle or easily fought, it will take time and resources that I am not sure the sector has, but I think there is a plan that could be developed to challenge the music royalty bodies for a better deal for community radio.

Local DAB

I started a conversation with PPL / PRS this year I think about Local DAB (after we managed to win the case as part of the joint CR license that came in this Jan), personally I believe this is the next big battle / mission for us, with local DAB not far off (despite what I say above), no doubt the royalty bodies are rubbing their hands together at the thought of a new market to license.

However, we need to challenge them and make sure we have a good deal for local DAB, this won’t just benefit community stations, but also commercial stations on this platform, so it’s with that spirit that I think we need to bring both groups together for a combined approach about how we get the best deal for Local DAB. It’s certainly an issue I am passionate about and I look forward to being there and being part of it.


That will that for now, no doubts there will be more thoughts on the future and updates on certain areas as and when!

Please feel free to comment with your thoughts below or contact me martin@martinsteers.co.uk

Digital Radio Stakeholders’ Event November 2017

My brief thoughts and notes from the Digital Radio Stakeholders’ Event

Thursday 9th November hosted by the BBC

This is the quarterly meeting about digital radio, hosted by DR UK (Digital Radio UK), we hear about how digital radio is getting on, thoughts and feelings for the future etc.


This was lead by Yvette Dore – DRUK

This last quarter saw a large DAB increase, there was a stall with DTV and internet listening, if not it would have hit over 50% of listening, there is a prediction that within the next 2 quarters we will hit 50% of digital listening.

In the 10 – 64 demographic its already at 51.6% but the over 65’s its around 40%.

31% in car, which is a growth of 26% year on year

87.5% new cars have DAB as standard

14.1 million devices have DAB+


This was lead by Ian O’Neill – DCMS

We are still due a short consultation, it will be a short window (6 weeks), the consultation is still being finalised but is due  out very soon.

The current trials might need to be extended past May.

SSDAB – Panel Discussion

With representatives from 7 of the trial mux operators.

143 estimated services of SSDAB, 94+ on DAB+ and numbers of services still growing.

Discussion on the panel about thoughts going forward for SSDAB

a) lets stop calling it SSDAB (small scale) as it sounds inferior to traditional DAB. Instead lets use ‘Local DAB’  as its for local audiences and communities, as opposed to the National DAB and what is actually County / Regional traditional local DAB. – My personal take away is this is a great idea, I certainly love the idea of local DAB and will adopt it!

b) General call for not for profit ownership, single ownership. (Maybe single ownership with profit, but if a multi ownership model than must be not for profit)

c) Need equivalence of signal strength, coverage inside houses can be a little patchy, need to be able to cover entire area of town / city / area as needed.

d) good mix of commercial stations and community radio (Ofcom CR licenses and digital only not for profit stations)

e) Length of license, so mux operators can plan for sustainability they need long license, suggested 12 years like commercial operator licenses.