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April 7, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:08am

Six in ten want more Government support for local newspapers, Press Gazette reader poll shows

By Charlotte Tobitt

Six in ten people who responded to a Press Gazette reader poll want the Government to provide extra help for local newspapers during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Some 701 people, or 62 per cent of respondents, said that local titles should be getting more financial support as they are a vital service.

By contrast, 423 people (38 per cent) said they should receive the same support as other businesses during the crisis.

Some 1,124 people in total responded to the poll, which ran between 31 March and 7 April.

A Government spokesperson said today: “We recognise the news industry is facing challenges during this difficult time and appreciate its vital role in providing clear, accurate information to the British public.

“The Chancellor has outlined an unprecedented package of measures to protect jobs and incomes and we remain in regular contact with media organisations at ministerial and official level on how we can support them.”

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Michael Gove announced in Saturday’s press briefing that the Government will support the media by investing more in its public information campaign being disseminated through national and local media and radio.

The Government is planning to spend more than £7m on advertising with the regional press alone over the next three months, and is considering the potential for further public health message opportunities.

Campaigns already placed in regional titles have covered the handwashing, self-isolation and “stay at home” stages of the Government’s response to the pandemic.

Regional publishers including Reach, Newsquest, JPI Media, Archant and KM Group have all furloughed staff whose work has been impacted by the crisis, including sales staff, sports journalists and photographers.

The furlough scheme means the Government is paying 80 per cent of workers placed on leave for up to three months.

At Reach’s Cambridge News, where a number of employees have been furloughed, editor David Bartlett told readers today that changes being made to make production more sustainable include scrapping the sports section, cutting back the community pages and creating a smaller paper overall.

He wrote: “These decisions have not been taken lightly, but will help protect the long-term viability of your newspaper.”

The Times used its leader column on Saturday to highlight the “deeply troubling” impact the crisis is already having on the local press.

“There is no good time to lose local papers but a pandemic makes them particularly essential,” it said.

“They are at heart a fourth emergency service. They can provide vital information on sudden changes to local services, neighbourhood schemes to help the vulnerable, or outbreaks near by.

“They can also help to highlight problems with local authority responses, thereby ensuring that resources go to where they are needed.”

The News Media Association has called for “immediate financial and operational support” for all UK national, regional and local news publishers.

“Maintaining the flow of essential news while avoiding extensive job losses and title closures would be beneficial to the public purse and society in the long-term,” it said last month.

The NMA and other groups have called for the Government to take steps such as extending its business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to publishers and opening up grants for smaller local publishers.

A survey of independent hyperlocal news providers has shown three-quarters of them feel at risk of closure within weeks because of Covid-19.

Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville 

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