NUJ welcomes MPs’ call for Journalism Fund

  • 25 Jan 2023

The quality and coverage of local news will continue to decline, damaging democracy, without new support from the government, a cross-party committee of MPs has reported.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select committee called on the UK government to establish an innovation fund for news, as proposed in the Cairncross Review, explore ways to make it easier for local news publishers to achieve charitable status, and encourage more philanthropic funding of local journalism. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, gave evidence to the inquiry and the union backs many of the committee’s recommendations which also appear in the union’s News Recovery Plan.

The MPs said that during the inquiry they encountered many new local news publishers with a variety of innovative business models, demonstrating that the sector has a sustainable future if it is properly supported to adapt to the new market.

Séamus Dooley, NUJ assistant general secretary said:

“Journalism matters, and any measures designed to protect and promote local journalism are to be welcomed. The NUJ has been in the forefront of promoting public interest journalism and local democracy and shares many of the MPs’ concerns over the threats to the quality and coverage of local news. The report’s proposals are very welcome, and the emphasis on smaller publishers is especially appreciated. The NUJ strongly supports a Journalism Foundation to promote, protect and investigate new ways to fund public interest news.”

The report said more must be done to ensure that support reaches smaller publishers of local news, and long-awaited digital markets legislation must enable news sites to negotiate a fair commercial relationship with online companies that host their stories, such as Google and Meta.

The committee said the BBC must reconsider its proposals for its local radio stations to share more content across regions as part of its digital first strategy.

The report highlights the harmful impact on communities of the resulting decline in access to local news, including a decrease in participation in civic life, less scrutiny of local government decisions and increasing levels of polarisation and misinformation. It noted that between 2009 and 2019, more than 300 local newspaper titles closed, with surviving news providers often operating with diminished resources and fewer journalists. It said:

"Our inquiry has found that existing support for local journalism tends to go to the largest, multi-title news publishers. The local news market is highly concentrated, with the largest three publishers owning more than two thirds of all local  newspaper titles. Consolidation within the sector has ensured the survival of many titles, but we recommend the government works to ensure that more support for local journalism reaches smaller publishers, many of whom are driving innovation that could help
sustain the sector as a whole."

Damian Green MP, acting chair of the DCMS Committee, said:

“With the shift towards online readership swallowing up traditional print revenues, many local newspapers which have served their communities for years have struggled to keep their heads above water. While hundreds have already folded, those that remain are faced with a lack of resources to conduct quality journalism, forcing them into a downward spiral of decline, as readership and therefore revenues continue to fall further.

“The disappearance of local news providers, which have always acted as the eyes and ears of their readers and held local decision makers to account, has ripped a hole in the heart of many communities. Worryingly it is the most deprived areas of the country that are most likely to miss out on coverage, compounding the disadvantages they already face.

“While there are many success stories of innovation, the very nature of having smaller audiences and limited reach means local publishers find it hard to float in a market that rewards scale. The sector can have a sustainable future, but without more support and a rebalancing of the rules to help smaller publishers, the decline in local journalism and all the negative impacts associated with it will continue.”

Main recommendations

• The government should build on the Future News Pilot Fund – set up in response to the recommendations of the Cairncross Review – and create a long-term public interest news fund to support innovation, start-ups and new technology.

• Statutory notices, an important revenue stream for many local news publishers, should be kept and made accessible to new entrants to the local news market.

•  The committee was concerned that some of the largest publishers may be reducing the quality of the local journalism produced by their titles. The largest publishers taking a disproportionate share of available support may be stifling much needed innovation. There should be an audit of public money that supports local news and an analysis of whether this could be distributed more fairly.

• The government should consider how it might make it easier for local news organisations to achieve charitable status and how to encourage more philanthropic donations to local news publishers.

• The BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter Service should be expanded and protected during forthcoming BBC Charter negotiations.

Full report: Sustainability of local journalism

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