Local Press essential

Review calls for evidence: With no local press democracy is doomed

By Glen Douglas

The independent review into the sustainability and future of high-quality journalism in the UK has issued its first call for evidence today.

Chaired by Dame Frances Cairncross, the call for evidence comes as a report commissioned ahead of the review highlights the continuing decline of the press market.

It also comes on the day when a newsroom of journalists in the US were shot, killed and injured and when West Dunbartonshire Council challenged The Dumbarton Democrat editor to prove he is a bona fide journalist.

The research, conducted by Mediatique, has found that circulation and print advertising revenues have dropped by more than half over the last decade, from nearly £7 billion to just over £3 billion. Over the same time, the number of frontline print journalists has dropped by over 25% – from around 23,000 in 2007 to 17,000 in 2017.

Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors welcomed the review and in a piece for the Telegraph this week, he warned that without a strong local press democracy is doomed.

He added: “The Society of Editors welcomes the review in expectation that it will underscore the importance of a free media in the UK. We look forward, in due course, to the review’s recommendations on how best to sustain UK journalism in the face of numerous challenges.

Democrat editor Bill Heaney, who is a member of the Society of Editors and a Life Member of the National Union of Journalists, said: “The timing of this review is spot on. Only today I was challenged by West Dunbartonshire Council to register with INTO, the successor to the Press Council, so that they could report me if I said anything they felt was too critical of them. This is an attempt to gag me and to deprive the public of my legitimate opinion on local matters.

“I think they have lost the plot and have never heard that time old saying about politics – if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Politics without polemics isn’t politics at all.”

Dame Frances Cairncross, Chair of the Review, said that focus will be placed on sustaining journalism for years to come.

“This review is not about preserving the status quo. We need to explore ways in which we can ensure that consumers in 10 years time have access to high-quality journalism which meets their needs, is delivered in the way they want, and supports democratic engagement.

“This call for evidence enables all those with an interest to contribute their knowledge and views so we can build the evidence and make impactful recommendations to move forward”, she said.

Matt Hancock, DCMS Secretary of State, said: “Our fearless and independent press plays a vital role in informing citizens and is one of the foundations on which our democracy is built.

“At a time of dramatic technological changes and with our institutions under threat from disinformation, we need this clear-eyed view of how high-quality journalism can continue to be effectively produced, distributed and consumed.”

The Dumbarton Democrat has moved swiftly with the changing times and has gone digital, supplying a free news service to a community where two of its competitors, the Lennox Herald and the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter, have closed their Dumbarton offices and centralised their editorial operations.”

The Cairncross review is investigating the overall state of the news media market, particularly the press industry, including threats to financial sustainability, the role and impact of digital search engines and social media platforms, the operation of the digital advertising supply chain.

Other preparatory findings of the research indicate that over 300 local and regional titles have closed since 2007 – raising the prospect of communities being left without local news provision. The review also found that the newspaper industry contributes 50 per cent of total editorial journalism in the UK – more than online and broadcast news combined – equal to an investment of £925m in 2017.

The panel in charge of the review is made up of experts from the fields of journalism, academia, advertising and technology and will seek a greater understanding of the state of the news media market, particularly the printed press, including threats to financial sustainability.

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