Newsquest boss says local journalism needs 'proper help now' from Government to survive

The chief executive of Newsquest has called on the Government to provide “proper help now” to local journalism, adding: “Time is running out.”

Henry Faure Walker said the Government must “get out of the slow lane” and be bold in its support for local journalism, including the BBC-funded local democracy reporter service.

In a speech at a Westminster Media Forum event on the future of news on Tuesday, Faure Walker said: “It’s great that the Government has recognised something needs to be done, but they commissioned the Cairncross report over 18 months ago, and frankly local journalism needs proper help now.”

Dame Frances Cairncross was tasked with looking at the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace for news publishers, and her report set out nine recommendations.

The Competition and Markets Authority opened an investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the digital advertising market in response.

The Government had not published its full response to the review before Parliament broke up for the snap general election, but it did reveal plans to establish a £2m pilot Future News Fund to help local news publishers find innovative ways of providing sustainable public interest journalism.

But Faure Walker said this week that the one-off £2m fund was “a little light by comparison” with other countries’ efforts.

He pointed to Canada’s £70m annual fund which will support local journalism over the next five years, and a six-year fund in Denmark that provided £44m in 2018.

“It certainly looks light compared to the £1bntax credits that go to other creative industries,” Faure Walker said. “Why does a local museum get support but not local journalism?”

He also urged the Government to provide influence and funding to help the BBC in its aim to expand its Local News Partnerships which funds 150 local democracy reporters across the UK. Cairncross also recommended the expansion.

The expansion of the scheme, which Faure Walker said was “proving to be a really successful model”, is entirely dependent on the BBC finding external sources of funding.

“I don’t believe in the need for long term support nor am I suggesting [the Government] support publishing companies,” Faure Walker said.

“I am saying they should support local journalism and local public interest reporters for the next three to five years and work with the industry in delivering this.

“Local journalism is a huge public good, and DCMS and Government need to get out of the slow lane and be bold — otherwise our local communities, the fabric of our society, will deteriorate just at a time when we as a nation need them most.”

According to the News Media Association, Cairncross acknowledged at the same event that the Government had been slow to act on her report, but added she was hopeful the next Government would move it forward.

Comments

5 thoughts on “Newsquest boss says local journalism needs 'proper help now' from Government to survive”

  1. Why should the government or public prop up badly run and failing regional publishers?
    They’re businesses not charities!
    Why does someone like old Etonian Walker think he should get a hand out after years of paying himself and his executives inflated salaries and bonuses while laying off hard working staff?

    It’s the small hyper local publishers who should get the help , not the dinosaurs, it’s these new independents who are providing the real local news service to communities,not the bigger groups.

    If your outdated business model is broken HFW then hard luck, sort it out yourself without expecting others to bail you out.

    It’s no wonder the industry’s in total disarray and on its knees with this type of arrogant, entitled and pompous attitude running through it.

  2. Begging subsidies from political masters or tech giants is a senseless substitute for a model simply based on payment for the consumer’s access to read what they actually do read. If we were to pay on monthly contracts for packages of our choice of news media, reflecting our flipping-around habits and interests, just like everyone consumes personally selected packages of TV, cable, communications etc, then all professional news media, large and small, would have the prospect of a predictable, reliable revenue stream on which to plan and develop, and with which to project longterm viability.
    Packages could and should include the whole range of consumer preference, from major titles to local and specialist journalism and quality blogs. This multi-choice option should be available for the large group of news readers who do not limit to one or two subscription brands but browse liberally according to their interests the behaviour the internet came into being to stimulate – and already monetized by Apple’s recently acquired magazine-packager Texture). The subscription package model would make honest consumers of all those with eclectic reading patterns and a reasonable amount of curiosity about daily events. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect people to pay a full subscription to a brand when they read 10 or 12 pages of tennis or contemporary dance coverage in it per month. But if a relevant interest section of that brand was included in their paid package, it would pay towards that brand’s journalism, and provide a familiar, scalable and versatile income model for the whole range of news media, top to bottom.
    The chief obstruction to the form of routine commercial collaboration that drives broadband packages seems to be the fearfulness of the big news beasts, who use their subscriptions to ringfence their brand around a relatively small number of readers in a very old-school and artificial way. There are millions of readers out there escaping their net because they’re behaving like today’s readers, not yesterday’s. Cairncross’s solutions, with complex, anti-liberal interventions by government and tech giants, were pretty far-fetched – it seems blindingly obvious that consumers want to and should pay for what they read, but they lack a sensible or realistic way to do so. The journalism industry needs to collaborate to get their money.

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