Regional newspapers are calling on readers for donations to help them “fight fake news and keep impartial local journalism free for all”.
CN Group published the appeal online last week across its portfolio of newspapers, including the North West Evening Mail and Carlisle News & Star, in what is thought to be a first for the regional press.
Readers are encouraged to make a “financial contribution”, ranging from a minimum of £5 to a maximum of £1,000, as the Cumbrian-based news publisher looks for a “return” on its “investment” in “local teams”.
The move mirrors a call for reader donations from The Guardian which appeared at the bottom of articles in recent months.
Currently both local sites offer content free to readers. They claim they “want to keep it that way for as long as possible” and are asking readers to “consider making a financial contribution to ensure that can happen”.
So far, four titles are understood to have received donations from across the UK and abroad.
In a statement, group editor James Higgins said: “We’re absolutely passionate about bringing the news that matters to our readers across all of our websites.
“Doing that – and more importantly doing it right – takes huge resource which we continue to invest in.
“But we cannot continue indefinitely to offer our digital content for free; there has to be a return somewhere down the line for the investment we make in our local teams.
“That’s why we are today inviting readers to help us keep the hundreds, if not thousands of articles we publish across out network of sites every week free for all to view.”
The appeal, which runs next to a “No to fake news!” logo (pictured top) reads: “Quality journalism costs money and in today’s digital world – where many websites mislead you with fake news – it’s important for local newspapers like ours to invest in local journalists who care about reporting accurately.
“This can only be achieved, though, if our websites receive an income for that investment. You can help enormously by making a small contribution for the service we provide.
“You can be assured it will be used for maintaining the highest standards of local journalism.”
Jonathan Lee, CN Group’s development director, told Press Gazette the call for donations was a “trial to see what the uptake is” and would be subject to a review “further down the line”.
He added: “It isn’t a precursor to a paywall – that isn’t something that we are considering at this time.”
Local and regional newspapers are struggling against rising print costs, falling newsstand sales and the loss of advertising revenue to online giants such as Facebook and Google.
Press Gazette has launched its Duopoly campaign calling on Facebook and Google to stop destroying journalism and offer a fair deal to news publishers on whose content it relies.
According to ABC figures to December 2016, the Evening Mail has an average circulation of 7,744 and The News & Star 9,365.