Archant is preparing to ask its readers for donations to sustain its local titles, in a model similar to that used by the Guardian.
The regional publisher has told staff the new model is “something we need to do to stay in the game” in the event its print titles stop being profitable.
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Chief content officer Matt Kelly said the coronavirus crisis has made the situation “exceptionally acute”, but added it is a “long-term issue that must be solved if local journalism is to thrive”.
As such, Archant will extend its partnership with Press Patron, a New Zealand company which it has already used to ask for contributions for The New European over the past year, to all its titles.
Archant owns almost 50 regional titles, including the Eastern Daily Press, Ham and High, Hackney Gazette, Herts Advertiser and Exmouth Journal.
Kelly (pictured) told staff on Friday, in an email seen by Press Gazette, that buttons asking for financial support – whether a one-off contribution or recurring payment – will launch across Archant’s websites “very soon”.
He wrote: “We are soon to launch a new digital initiative across all our titles, where we are asking local readers to make a contribution to the cost of our journalism.
“As you know, we – together with the rest of the industry – are quite some way away from creating a sustainable model for digital-only local journalism, and this is something we need to do to stay in the game if and when our print titles cease to be profitable.”
Kelly compared the model to the Guardian’s model of reader contributions, which helped the newspaper break even in 2019 alongside growing digital revenues.
He said: “I believe this works well on The Guardian and TNE because readers of those titles care passionately about their existence, and are actually delighted to have the opportunity to help keep them going. They don’t find it onerous. They are glad to contribute.
“The same should be true of all our local titles. We keep our communities supplied with important content. It costs us a lot of money to do this, and none of our titles – none of them – have a god-given right to eternal existence.
“If the community values us and wants us to keep on doing what we do, we have to give them the wherewithall to help us do that, and this is what Press Patron allows.”
Kelly also said Archant’s new Google-funded news website for Peterborough, through which the publisher is searching for a way to make digital news pay as print revenues decline, has got off to a “flying start” since its launch last month.
Some of Archant’s regional websites began to inform readers of the appeal today.
Ham and High editor Andre Langlois wrote: “This is, without doubt, a tough time for everyone but we are proud of the role we play in the community and we know the newspaper is greatly cherished.
“We are proud of what we do and, as journalists, most of us can’t imagine doing anything else.
“Local journalism is a vital resource for our communities and I hope you will give us your support.”
Archant made a pre-tax loss of £7.6m in 2018. Advertising revenue, which makes made up the majority, fell by 10.8 per cent to £64.2m while newspaper circulation revenue fell 6.6 per cent to £16.4m.