Journalism has always been a noble profession. Sometimes well-paid, mostly not, but always more of a calling than just a job.
Journalism, to us at least, is about getting to the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be, and running with it, no matter where it may take you. Whether it is having a reporter at the main pressers in Westminster, an investigative journalist trying to hunt down wrong-doers, or a reporter at the local council meeting, the difference is meaningless; if something that shouldn’t be happening is happening, they present stories that need telling, and democracy demands a system whereby someone tells the electorate about the bad (and less often, the good).
Invariably that means a lot of wasted days, and stories that don’t always pan out. That is the nature of the beast. Not doing it, however, means neglecting the core mission of the media: to inform. Lord Reith put it best with his mantra of: inform, educate and entertain. Each an important facet of media, and none are mutually exclusive of the other.
Over the last decade or more, local news reporting, particularly newspaper, has been decimated in the UK (and further afield); that is not to say that there are not dedicated reporters working in local papers or locally-focused blogs up and down the country, trying their best to make ends meet, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The day of the local heaving newsroom, with cigarette smoke and typewriters has gone for good, and good riddance to the cigarette smoke and typewriters; but the news room itself was always the important bit.
The loss, or at least reduction in news, is a problem for democracy, because, where all else fails, the fourth and fifth estates are supposed to hold power to account, or expose it for hypocrisy when it refuses to reign its own excesses in. That’s not possible without the press.
Television, radio, newspaper, blog, magazine; daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly or ad-hoc; they all do their bit, and, in their own way, they are all essential to a healthy, fully functioning democracy.
We are positive that, following the Brexit news coverage of the last couple of years, particularly by the so-called mainstream media, that news media has lost its way. If it doesn’t serve democracy, it serves no one and nothing of any value, or worse, it serves someone else’s agenda. If the only point of local newsprint is to keep turning a buck from tired ads for new beds, settees and garden furniture, then democracy is in a sorry state indeed. With the possible exception of Sky News and especially Channel 4 News, television news is in a sorry state indeed.
And sorry state, for the most part, is how we find most news in the UK. That’s what Absolute News is all about. We have lofty ideals, and even loftier ambition. When you apply that to news and current affairs people roll their eyes. Apply it to a shiny new technology start-up and people get excited: why can’t it be that way with news and current affairs?
Well, let’s explore that a bit more, because while news and current affairs are exceedingly important, the News is only part of the picture. If you want a new news channel with web site, no worries, get your £70m a year budget from somewhere, go off and lose money hand over fist and have at it, and good luck to you. You are a braver person than this author. However, if you are intent of building something that lasts, you pretty much have three choices: beg every year, and hope supporters can help you keep afloat; get tax-payer funded; or build a viable business model, and execute on it.
We’ve chosen the latter, which we’ll briefly explain below.
Firstly, let’s dispel a myth, that myth being that you can’t really turn a buck and stay independent. That’s rubbish if you take independence seriously and don’t allow commercial to interfere with editorial, and if they do, shout from the highest rooftops about it very loudly indeed.
What is unforgivable, is to build news, journalism and authored narrative documentary into an organisation that can make a difference, then let it fail. So profit has to be in there. Minuscule or otherwise, it has to be part of the plan from day one.
Which is where our idea of trying to focus the local television network in the UK into a first-rate network television resource, firstly from a news perspective, and secondly from a network programming perspective. Both have to be excellent to make this work; the non-news programming has to excel in the international market if it is all to be paid for and a a decent news service kept alive. The model is not even innovative: ITV and ITV Studios do this well. The BBC and its newly minted BBC Studios will do as well over the coming years.
The model accepts, rather than fights, the idea that news has to be profitable, and that if it is not, it should be cut back. We believe the complete opposite, that we have to build other programming revenue streams, and keep improving them in order to afford the news, loss leading it would be called in retail, but simply accepting that driving revenue from advertising can only be part of the solution if you want to compete with other public service broadcasting organisations.
Delivering the news to people’s front rooms is a privilege, and to do it well, an honour. That’s what we hope to do over the long-term with Absolute News, we hope we can count on your continued support to do so.
We’re just a bunch of like-minded people who think the UK deserves better than how it is currently served for news, with a core focus on local, regional and national where it counts. People don’t need dictating to, they need informing, occasionally educating, and always being entertained.