Community Journalism – Alive and Well in Belfast

In the latest of our occasional series, we talk to IMPRESS members about their experiences as publishers and ask for their views on press regulation. Our thanks to this week’s contributor, Una Murphy, publisher at Belfast-based social affairs magazine VIEW and online news site VIEWdigital.

When Brian Pelan and Una Murphy launched VIEWdigital in 2012 they saw a need to uncover community interest and social affairs stories from Northern Ireland that were not being covered elsewhere. Four years on and they could not have predicted how far they have come. We asked publisher, Una Murphy to tell us more:

What is your publishing ethos?
We quickly realised that there was a demand for hard-hitting, thought-provoking social affairs stories from and about the Northern Ireland community. Rather than use traditional news gathering we developed a co-production model where we invite guest editors to collaborate with us on themed issues. This means that we get the benefit of working with an expert in a particular field – whether it’s a leading medical professional for the health issue or a justice reformer for our prisons issue.

This has evolved over the last four years so that we are now able to produce 10 high quality themed editions each year, with the combined advantage of our ability to produce the news element of the story and the guest editor’s deep understanding of the issues. 

Our aspiration was to be the ‘go-to’ magazine for social affairs in Northern Ireland, the Republic and internationally. We were conscious from the start that we did not want to be parochial at all and in many editions we have included contributions from international experts to give our readers the wider perspective.

How’s it going?
VIEW magazine is distributed online via email and social media to nearly 10,000 people. The magazine is also printed with distribution to selected libraries where it has a longer shelf life and we’ve recently taken the decision to extend the print edition to 700 copies after an agreement with a news distributor to get the magazine into newsagents in Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

Which gap in the market are you able to fill?
Community activists and community organisations are skilled at providing support and assistance in whatever discipline they provide, whether in housing, health, prisons or education. What they are not so good at is communicating the positive and negative stories that need to be told. This is where come in. With the help of our guest editors we are exposing stories about rent controls, child poverty, racism and disability issues among many others. Civic society has not developed as well as it might have in Northern Ireland, because of the legacy of the troubles so, we see VIEWdigital as one way of getting the messages and stories out to communities and encouraging more action and more projects to develop. 

Why is independent press regulation important to you?
We have a good and equal relationship with our readers and we do not go out of our way to sensationalise stories, but if we do make a mistake and get something wrong we need a mechanism to put things right. 

We’re professional journalists with year’s of experience in print and broadcast journalism, but we don’t have deep pockets. We are reassured by their arbitration scheme and the fact that we will have a structure and a process to follow if we ever need it.

We appreciate IMPRESS’s grass roots approach and are sure they will be a valuable resource for us.