Local News Matters: week of action round-up
10 April 2017
Below is a round up of the events and activity that took place as part of the NUJ local news matters week of action in March/April 2017.
Seamus Dooley, acting NUJ general secretary, said:
"Local News matters, and if we as journalists do not stand up for journalism who will meet the challenge?"
The NUJ kicked off the week of action on Friday 24 March by welcoming support from Irish politicians - Comeragh council and Waterford council unanimously passed motions expressing support for the NUJ local news matters campaign.
Other Irish councils supporting the campaign include Derry, Strabane, Mid-Ulster, Fermanagh and Omagh. Support was also received from Yorkshire and the Humber TUC with a resolution passed highlighting the crisis in local and regional journalism.
On the first day of the week of action, the NUJ and TUC launched a public pledge calling for investment in quality local journalism and for the UK government to organise a public inquiry to examine the local media crisis - sign, support and share the pledge.
The NUJ parliamentary group tabled an early day motion urging the government to take steps to support investment in local news provision. Ask your MP to support EDM 1109: Local News Matters.
© Gilbert Johnston
Helen Goodman MP, chair of the NUJ parliamentary group, said:
"At times when local news publications are having their budgets drastically cut, their operations diminished and even wiped out, it is incredibly important that we celebrate and support our cherished local news outlets."
The Sunderland Shields and Hartlepool branch organised the first public event for local news matters week. The Sunderland event attracted a number of high-profile speakers, including bestelling novelist Phillippa Gregory, Lee Hall - the head of journalism at Sunderland university, Helen Goodman MP - chair of the NUJ's parliamentary group, Mike Amoswas - Northern Echo columnist, Susan Wear - PR consultant and former Shields Gazette journalist, Joy Yates - editorial director of the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail, and Duncan Leatherdale - BBC journalist, Carol Freeman - former Sunderland Echo journalist and Chris Morley - NUJ organiser.
© Simon Chapman
In the evening on Friday, the NUJ Bristol branch organised a public meeting. The panel at the NUJ Bristol branch event included Lorna Stephenson - The Bristol Cable, Ben Haggitt - ITV News West Country, Chris James - Made in Bristol TV, Vandna Mehta - editor Vocalise magazine, Selina Cuff - editor Chew Valley Gazette, Steve Brodie - BBC Bristol, Mike Norton - editor Bristol Post, Richard Coulter - The Bristol Voice network and Laura Davison - NUJ national organiser.
On Saturday the NUJ Norfolk branch organised leafleting in Norwich.
NUJ Norfolk branch member and BBC rep Cath Staunt explains what's happening locally - In an era of fake news & click bait - local news matters more than ever.
© Mark Bullimore
To mark local news matters week, the Irish South-West branch of the NUJ organised an event to address the challenges facing journalists at local and national level.
The event took place in Limerick on Saturday 25 March and included a workshop on trade union negotiating facilitated by Irish organiser Ian McGuinness.
In the afternoon, the NUJ and Public Relations Institute of Ireland hosted a discussion about the role of quality journalism in the era of fake news.
The panel speakers were Emma O'Kelly - RTE's education correspondent and Cian Connaughton - president of the PRII.
Plymouth based local reporter Carl Eve explains why crime reporting is vital in a community.
The Manchester and Salford branch held a film showing event as part of LNM week on Saturday.
© John Topliff
Journalist Mark Johnson explains why local journalists are the eyes & ears of the public in Liverpool.
The FT chapel pledged their support for the campaign.
The NUJ Portsmouth branch organised a meeting on Monday night and on Tuesday, the NUJ organised a public meeting in parliament:
The event in parliament launched new research on local news provision in the UK and the impact on democracy. The research was carried out by Dr Gordon Neil Ramsay, deputy director for the centre for the study of media, communication and power at King's College London and the other speakers on the night included Aasma Day - investigative reporter and lifestyle editor at the Lancashire Post, professor Robert McChesney, Justin Schlosberg - Media Reform Coalition and NUJ president Tim Dawson.
Access the NUJ research:
Tim Dawson, NUJ president, said:
"Disturbing as this is, it makes you realise how fortunate we have been. For the 150 years of mass literacy, a largely unregulated private sector media has grown up organically and found ways to provide for many of our communities' news and information needs. In that we are fortunate, but make no mistake, a paradigm shift is underway and new thinking is needed."
Séamus Dooley, NUJ acting general secretary, said:
"This survey points to a deep crisis in local and regional news provision. There is an urgent need for government and media organisations to halt that decline, to examine ways of developing sustainable media business models operating in the interests of democracy and the public interest. The price of a continuous decline is too high for citizens to pay."
The report highlights there has been a net loss of 9 UK regional newspapers between November 2015 and March 2017, with 22 titles closing and 13 launching. The number of UK local authority districts with no daily local newspaper coverage rose to 273 (of 406 in total). Five UK local authority districts were reduced to single-publisher monopoly and there have been at least 418 job losses announced over a 17-month period. Furthermore, the BBC deal for 150 new local democracy reporters fails to offset the loss of jobs from the largest publishers during the same period.
Assembly Members from the three major parties in Wales attended an event in the Assembly's Ty Hywel building on Tuesday. The event was held immediately after a plenary session in the Senedd and sponsored by Bethan Jenkins, chair of the culture, Welsh language and communications committee. The meeting heard that the decision by the Welsh Government to make payments of more than £300,000 to Newsquest to establish a subbing hub in Newport had been unwise, especially as the hub was now being shutdown.
Bethan Jenkins confirmed that her committee would be looking at the Welsh newspaper industry later in 2017 with a view to seeking solutions.
Liz Saville Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, has supported the NUJ campaign and said:
"Our communities both deserve and need a strong local press. As a former local paper news reporter, I am fully aware of the vital role it plays in keeping people informed of the issues and stories they interact with on a day to day basis must be recognised.
The London independent broadcasting and new media branch also held a meeting on Tuesday evening and expressed support for the campaign.
On Wednesday, the Oxford branch launched two new videos explaining the importance of local news:
NUJ members from BBC Radio Solent and BBC South held meetings in Dorchester and Southampton .
The union's Leeds and Wakefield branch handed out leaflets outside Leeds railway station.
The union also called for greater transparency among local authorities in Ireland and launched the 'Access All Areas' campaign that will include an investigation into the extent of local authorities excluding the press and the public from their deliberations.
Johnston Press, publisher of 200 regional publications and a range of national newspaper titles, announced a £300m pre-tax loss for 2016 during local news matters week and the union responded by highlighting that journalists on the ground are bearing the brunt of continuing budget cuts while questioning the strategy of the newspaper group's chief executive officer Ashley Highfield.
On Wednesday, the NUJ Newsquest South London chapel met at lunchtime and they are facing more staffing shortfalls as journalists leave to take up new jobs. The chapel emphasisd that company cut backs to admin and HR staff have also taken their toll on journalists, hampering smooth recruitment and leaving editorial staff unsupported.
The Cambridge news chapel also organised a meeting on Wednesday and voted to support the local news matters campaign, and journalists at the Brighton Argus, which has changed editors three times in as many months have taken part in a survey about workplace stress, with most results showing the highest-risk score of "red".
On Thursday 30 March, MPs debated the local news crisis and expressed supported the union's call for a short, sharp inquiry into the future of local and regional news.
The debate was introduced by Helen Goodman MP.
Margaret Greenwood, MP for Wirral West, singled out the Liverpool Echo and Wirral News for backing the Hillsborough campaign for justice.
Jason McCartney MP for Colne Valley praised the Huddersfield Examiner for its Hands Off the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary campaign and its coverage of the local football team.
Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central described how during the floods of 2015 when her community was cut off, BBC radio York worked night and day to get messages out and "provided a lifeline at that crunch point".
Corri Wilson, MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock, said the local press "are the voice of their readers, or listeners, and they act as a watchdog. People trust them and see them as somewhere to go when things go wrong or when things need to be put right."
Rebecca Harris, MP for Castle Point, said: "If not for investigation by honest, trusted, dedicated local journalists who can be relied on to put the facts straight, there would be a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of harm caused by rumours."
Liz Saville Roberts, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said: "The people of Wales have become increasingly reliant on the London-based media for their everyday news" and the two national Welsh-language newspapers, Y Cymro, and Golwg, are both at risk of closure.
The debate was summed up by Kevin Brennan, the deputy shadow culture minister. He expressed concerns about the cuts to the BBC and said that "in many towns, the nearest BBC reporter is now over an hour’s drive away". He called on the minister for digital and culture, Matt Hancock, to take action and said: "Will the government undertake to launch some kind of national review into what is going on? Setting party politics aside, we are all in agreement about the importance of local news in all its formats. It is crucial to safeguard these precious community assets into the future."
The minister said he would look at how newspapers could become assigned as community assets, and said: "On the call for an inquiry, we have to see how the BBC initiative beds down and how the business rates support, which comes in only on Saturday, works in practice. We keep this question under constant review."
On Friday 31 March, NUJ Scotland organised a conference on the future of news.
The speakers included Ian Stewart - editorial director at The Scotsman, Robert McChesney - professor at the department of communications at the university of Illinois, Fiona Hyslop - member of the Scottish parliament (MSP) and cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, Paul Woods - managing director of the West Highland free press, Ally Tibbitt - social media analyst for STV and the founding co-director of The Ferret, Jack Ferguson - independent social researcher, journalist and political activist, and Michael Gray - Commonspace.
On Friday night, the Birmingham and Coventry branch held an event and Coventry city councillor Ken Taylor, Leigh Mencarini - Coventry Telegraph's communities editor, and former features writer Peter Walters were among the guests who took part in the debate.The branch deputy chair, Barbara Goulden, announced the launch of a new website run by journalists and supporting Coventry's bid to become City of Culture. © Irfan Tahir
The Derry NW Ireland branch met on Friday night. The panel consisted of Felicity McCall - joint chair of the NUJ Irish executive council, Darach MacDonald - former editor of the Ulster Herald, Eamonn McCann - former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Pat McArt - former editor of the Derry Journal and Ciaran O'Neill - editor of the Derry News. The attendance included Mark Durkan MP, and Raymond McCartney - Assembly Member for Foyle.
© Joe Boland
Suzanne Geldard offered an insight into her work as a local sports reporter.
The NUJ reps summit in Manchester took place on the same day that the national living wage increased by 4.1 per cent to £7.50 an hour. On the same day, the union published a pay counter showing Newsquest's chief executive hourly pay rate compared to the pay of an average Newsquest journalist. Based on his last known pay package and at current dollar/sterling exchange rates, since 1 January 2017 Henry Faure Walker earned the equivalent of £566.17 an hour wheresas the average Newsquest journalist earned £10.57 an hour.
© Lewis Arnold
At the reps summit, Chris Morley, NUJ organiser, said:
"The BBC director general Tony Hall has a total pay package of £450,000 and 101 executives paid more than £150,000. The total pay bill for top management at the BBC was £3.37m last year – a rise of 2.2 per cent. The 19,000 staff got a 1.3 per cent rise. At Johnston Press, chief executive Ashley Highfield got a £581,000 pay packet in 2015, including a £115,000 for his pension. Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox had a £749,000 package in 2016. Newsquest has failed to pay an across the board rise for nine out of the last 10 years. Its US boss Bob Dickey has just had his pay for the last year revealed as £5.7 million at today’s dollar/pound exchange rate. But his UK subordinate didn’t do too badly either. An NUJ investigation found his pay package was worth £1.17 million."
The Nottingham branch held a branch meeting and Chris Leslie, MP for Nottingham East, said: "Local media and BBC reporting is an integral part of the civic and democratic process and really needs to be defended."
© Alan Lodge
To end the week of action, Séamus Dooley, NUJ acting general secretary, said:
"Our local news matters campaign has succeeded in creating an awareness of the importance of journalism, to society, to communities, to democracy. As a union we are united under a common code of conduct, a commitment to the protection of journalists and journalism and to the maintenance of journalism as a profession which serves the public interest. The message I take away from local news matters week is that there is not one solution, not one model which will save the future of journalism but the fact that journalists continue to succeed in breaking stories, in shining a light in dark corners, in the face of many adversities is worth celebrating.
"Journalism does have a future and we intend to be part of that story."