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April 3, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:07am

It’s now or never: What advertisers, Government, readers and big tech must do to support the news industry

By Dominic Ponsford

It’s been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

As far as the coronavirus crisis goes we can all play our part: doing our bit as citizens to maintain the rules on social distancing and as journalists to provide critically-important information to our audiences during the most testing of circumstances.

It feels like a big moment for all of us in the news business. The pandemic will pass and afterwards newsbrands that have had a ‘good war’ will not be forgotten.

That means investing now in long-term reader loyalty by ramping up our services at a time when most of the rest of the country has pressed ‘pause’.

And it means achieving wartime levels of ingenuity and invention to somehow keep the show on the road at a time when:

  • print routes to market have been severely disrupted
  • advertising has largely evaporated
  • and social distancing is playing havoc with everything from the live events which most B2B titles rely on to newsgathering.

There also a few relatively easy things here which those outside the industry can do to help our essential business survive the critical weeks and months ahead:

Advertisers: Back don’t block trusted newsbrands

To those who are still spending money at the moment: bless you. But please consider adding trusted news brands to your advertising ‘white list’ and removing Coronavirus and Covid-19 from the list of words in content which you block ads from appearing against.

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You can do your bit to support journalists who are, in some cases, risking their lives to ensure: their readers continue to be informed and Government, businesses and public institutions continue to be held to account.

Some of the news around Covid-19 is necessarily grim. But much is also uplifting: like the 500,000+ UK citizens volunteering to help the NHS and the uplifting national round of applause which is rippling around the country every Thursday evening.

We need the news media to bind people together at a time when they must necessarily be apart. And we need bonafide journalists working overtime to either verify or debunk the often dangerous claims being widely circulated on social media.

MPs and Government:

Local news media were already in a vulnerable state before this crisis erupted. For many titles it could prove fatal unless urgent action is taken.

If we don’t want large swathes of the country to become news deserts for the first time since the Enlightenment then the UK Government must act now to support the on-the-ground newsgatherers whose work the rest of the industry is largely based on.

As a cross-party group of MPs has already told Chanceller of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak: this means investing now in a public information campaign via local media and extending the 100 per cent business rates holiday from retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to news publishers.

The alternative could be to lead us into a very dark place. Without local journalists gathering news and verifying information, rumour and gossip shared on social media becomes the only show in town. Councils and local businesses are no longer held to account. And when there is an injustice to be righted local people will find they no longer have a voice.

Big tech platforms:

Facebook and Google would be very less interesting places for readers to spend time without the widely shared professional news content which features on their platforms.

Together Facebook and Google are thought to have hoovered up most of the £24bn+ spent on advertising in the UK in 2019.

The monopoly position of both platforms (in social and search media respectively) will only be tolerated by Governments as long as they continue to be good corporate citizens and continue to support the wider digital ecosystem.

And this means using their monopolistic positions on advertising market for good and sharing the spoils with the news providers who are creating the best content on their platforms.

And in particular that means finding ways to support local news media who look unlikely to ever make paywalls pay the bills.

Much has already been done by Facebook and Google in this regard but given the scale of their economic might and the clear vested interest they have making sure that trusted and verified information is shared on their platforms they can and must to much more and they need to act quickly.

Readers:

To readers I would urge you to use it or lose it. If there is a local paper, magazine or national newspaper that you still want to be able to read in three months’ time – buy it now.

Without journalists holding the Government’s feet to the fire we quite possibly would not even be in the current life-saving lockdown. Journalists have also played a vital role in highlighting shortages of PPE equipment, critical care beds and testing kits.

You never know when you may need a professional journalist to highlight an injustice and ask questions of powerful vested interests on your behalf. It is no coincidence that if you look at press freedom rankings and global corruption rankings there is a high correlation between a free press and a healthy democracy.

Press Gazette

In our small way Press Gazette remains dedicated to supporting the most important business in the world during the most challenging crisis it has ever faced in modern times.

Our commitment remains absolute and we will play our part to highlight best practice and chronicle this tumultuous period in the news industry to the best of our ability.

The healthy competition that underpins the news game continues undimmed.

But if you are have any particular innovations which you think are working, and new products which you would like to share, or any insight which you think would help our crucial industry weather the current storm please drop us a line on pged@pressgazette.co.uk.

Picture: Reuters/Simon Dawson

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