Letters: Where is the Government support for independent news providers?

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Digital News

Dear editor,

I would like to update your readers on some important work being carried out by the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) and the dire situation faced by independent news providers across the UK.

Last week (15 October) we took part in a roundtable with the Minister for Media and Data.

Although the minister was unable to make the meeting, it was chaired by Robert Specterman-Green, a civil servant for DCMS in charge of media and creative industries.

The roundtable was attended by Reach, JPIMedia, Verizon, the NUJ, the Guardian, the NMA, and News UK. We delivered a speech to the attendees which you can read below.

As happened during the first national lockdown, local restrictions threaten to undermine the already fragile sustainability of the independent news sector.

Not all local businesses have managed to recover from the first wave – and many of those that have are not in a financial position to continue their pre-COVID levels of advertising spend.

For the independent sector which relies more heavily on local businesses rather than large multinationals and big brands advertising with them, this makes for a dire situation.

Over the last six months, Independent news providers have logged record levels of traffic to their websites. Audiences are flocking to their local papers in search of up-to-date, locally relevant information on the pandemic.

But while this is a positive development, the increase in costs from such a spike in traffic has concerned many.

In addition, 95 percent of independent news providers still haven’t benefitted from a single government measure to support the newspaper industry.

This includes access to the All-in, all together public health campaign, the second phase of the public health campaign, Hands, Face Space, and the not entirely relevant, but equally vital at this time – EU Transition Brief: Check, Change, Go.

However, with barely a shred of government support, independent news sites have produced tens of thousands of articles on the Coronavirus, held power to account, collaborated on national investigations, celebrated excellence in their communities, and mourned with those who’ve lost friends and family.

Journalism Matters week – a campaign supported by her Majesty the Queen highlighted the excellent work being done by the independent sector. Many independent editors and journalists were nominated for the Public Interest News List.

The sector can no longer be viewed as peripheral; it is now an essential part of the news ecosystem.

The combined reach of the independent news sector in the UK has been discussed here before but it is worth repeating. Simply, it is vast with several hundred professional publications reaching more than 15m people online every month; and with a collective print run of half a million.

So the question must be asked. Where is the support?

Despite clear Government directives that the Hands, Face, Space campaign should be run on digital, and the Check, Change, Go campaign in community media channels, not one of ICNN’s 124 members have been granted access.

Our discussions with the Government’s media buying agency OmniGov have ground to a halt – they simply refuse to engage with us beyond requesting ads in the one weekly printed title we represent. Our questions regarding the future of the campaign, the Government directives on where the ads should be placed are met with reticence at best, silence at the worst.

Publications have closed, citing the lack of government support, specifically the lack of public health campaign revenue as the direct cause.

In short, over the past few months, the situation has only deteriorated for the independent news sector.

Our recent emails to DCMS and to OmniGov highlighting these issues and requesting a meeting to discuss the delay in getting independent titles, specifically ICNN members, access to the campaigns have gone unanswered.

We would like to resubmit our request to have this discussion. The lack of access to these campaigns could be the difference between these publications surviving the winter, or collapsing like dominos – which would have a catastrophic effect on livelihoods, media plurality, local communities, and local democracy.

The Cabinet Office, which oversees the ad campaigns will be made aware of concerns. If you would like to join us and also urge your local MPs to highlight the vital role independent news providers play in a modern society, you can write to them here:

Kind regards,

Matt Abbott
Deputy Director of ICNN

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