A home for research about local news in Port Talbot, yes, you read it right. Not just local news, not just Port Talbot, research about them. It’s altogether specialised, and it sounds more than a little bit confusing, but to me it makes perfect sense.
My name is Rachel Howells. I’m studying a PhD at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism and my topic is local news and democracy. I’m funded by KESS, which is a European grant distributed by the Welsh Assembly Government. I am co-funded by an industry partner – The Media Standards Trust.
I’ve chosen to focus my research on the South Wales town of Port Talbot.
About Port Talbot
The population of Port Talbot is around 35,000 and it is the most polluted town in Wales due to the large concentration of heavy industry – the town is famous for its steelworks. It is also famous for turning out some of Hollywood’s finest: Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen all come from here.
Until 2009, there was a thriving weekly newspaper in Port Talbot. The Port Talbot Guardian had been printing since 1927. It was owned by the Trinity Mirror Group, who took the decision to close the PT Guardian, along with its sister title, the Neath Guardian, which served a neighbouring town.
A third title, the South Wales Evening Post, is based 10 miles away in Swansea. There is a Neath Port Talbot edition of the Evening Post every day, but this is generally limited to two or three pages of news about the area. There is also a weekly pull-out section inside the Evening Post, called The Courier, which is often four pages long. The Port Talbot correspondent at the Evening Post is based in their Swansea offices.
Since the PT Guardian closed down, there have been no working journalists based in the town. The suspicion is that stories about Port Talbot are no longer making it into the other media that ostensibly cover the area, simply because there is no local newspaper picking up on them in the first place. There is also an argument that the diversity of news coverage is impoverished because fewer journalists are covering stories, asking questions and putting politicians, businesses and other public organisations under scrutiny.
About my research
My research will attempt to measure how Port Talbot was served by local news in past times. It will also aim to discover how Port Talbot is served now, since the closure of the Port Talbot Guardian. It will survey local residents to discover how they consume news, and how they would like to consume news if they had a choice. And it will interview current news providers to assess how they see the coverage of Port Talbot.
All of this, in the end, will go towards forming a picture of one town’s experience of a very modern problem – the crisis in print news – and will, hopefully, shed some light on how that affects the town’s relationship with democracy and civic engagement.
Why the blog?
So, now you know why the research is happening. What about the blog? Well, the reason I’ve started this blog is certainly related to the PhD, but it’s also for a related project I’m working on, Local News Port Talbot, which is a hyperlocal news site for Port Talbot.
I want to complement what’s already being done on this site – http://www.lnpt.org – which has been set up by a group of professional journalists that is trying to tackle the news shortage in Port Talbot (I am one of these journalists).
Essentially I’m looking for a place to host news feeds and Twitter feeds about Port Talbot. So this is a place for me to learn, discuss (and probably break) techie stuff that I can utilise on the public-facing news site. It’s also somewhere for me to store all the good things I find online about hyperlocal news, media trends, blogging and Port Talbot.
This blog, really, is for myself. But if it becomes a useful place for other people as well, then that’s great.
If you’re interested in any of this, and would like to know more, please leave a comment.