Will journalists be confident a sustainable solution has been found?

Key Highlights:

  1. We should welcome a call for an audit of how public money is distributed among the entire media landscape
  2. The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is a success – but it’s time to see it evolve 
  3. Why are we still waiting for regulation with the Tech platforms
  4. What if everyone contributed to an innovation fund that had a brief to benefit the whole media landscape through scaleable ideas?
  5. The DCMS has missed an opportunity to really find solutions to sustainable journalism by failing to look at tax incentive models.

Will journalists, hyper local publishers and large corporates be jumping for joy at the findings of the public inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism published by the The Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee this week?

I think less of a jump, more of a frustrated hop at best.

The report makes a series of recommendations which, on the face of it, recognise the challenges that have forced more than 300 titles to close in the past 15 years, prevented viable alternative business models from emerging and acknowledge the impact Google and Meta have had on the ability to fund their journalism.

In my opinion, there is a lot of common sense in their recommendations. However, my overriding disappointment is that we have heard many of these recommendations before and there is still nothing to suggest a long-term sustainable solution to the question the committee  set itself.

But let’s start with the positives:

It is absolutely right to reassess how public money is being distributed and who is benefitting from it, whether this be via the lucrative public notices revenue or Government-placed advertising.

As the report notes: “Statutory notices in local newspapers remain an important means of keeping the public informed and a vital revenue stream for many local news publishers.

But the criteria used by some councils to determine where notices are published appear to be outdated.”

“We recommend that the Government review existing rules and practices for placing statutory notices in local newspapers and whether local councils need guidance on how to measure the reach and audience levels of news publications in a digital age. This should include an assessment of how the revenue stream from statutory notices can be made more easily accessible for new entrants to the local news market. The Government should set out the progress of this review in its response to this report.

The reason why this is important is that publishers have relied on an archaic law dating back to 1870 where public bodies are obligated to place advertisements in printed newspapers – in an age where there was only print as a medium.

Publishers have become complacent – even lazy – as a result of this and many publications would not exist were it not for this source of revenue. However, they have not evolved their offering and are not delivering a value offering to their customers – the people buying the service ie public bodies.

Smaller niche publishers are excluded from bidding for this money – where they may actually provide a better service to local communities with their products.

This may make for uncomfortable reading for larger publishers – but taking a neutral view, this source of income needs an overhaul

And the larger publishers know this, which is why they negotiated a £1m grant from Google to rapidly find a way of evolving their offering to ensure they can maintain their hold on this revenue.

The same is true of public advertising.

The report states: “We are also concerned that the largest publishers take a disproportionate share of the support available for local journalism, to the detriment of smaller publishers and those entering the market. This may be stifling much needed innovation that could benefit the sector as a whole. We recommend that the Government conducts an audit of public money that supports the local news sector. “

The minnows in the publishing world, those start-ups who are not part of the News Media Association, have definitely lost out on Government spending, for example through the covid pandemic advertising campaign, and have a justifiable case to make for a greater slice (or in some cases just any slice of) the advertising cake.

Now for the mixed view on the recommendations.

Once again, and quite rightly, the Local News Partnership-run Local Democracy Reporting Service has come under scrutiny.

There is no doubt, this scheme has been successful in its aim of providing more journalists to cover more local authorities, ensuring a greater degree of scrutiny of public decision-making that was being eroded because of the challenges and costs versus reward of this type of journalism.

As the report says: “The LDRS has had a positive impact on local journalism by enabling important local news stories to get coverage where otherwise they might not.”

It is encouraging the DCMS inquiry has seen the value of this service and is calling for it “to be protected under forthcoming Charter negotiations. Also “We encourage the BBC to explore ways to widen the scope of the service”

But there remains a frustrating haze over its transparency.

The committee questions the domination of the contracts to run the reporters by the major publishers (Of the 165 reporters allocated in July 2021, Reach Plc took 75, Newsquest 28.5, and JPI Media (now National World) 35.5.)

However, it failed to investigate how many other publishers bid for the contracts. If it had done so, I am reliably informed that many of those contracts were single bids.

If you don’t bid, you can’t hope to win a contract.

And in actual fact, it benefits the smaller publishers not to have to run a democracy reporter, with the requirements around HR, payroll, administration etc, in favour of having a reliable feed of content that has been read by a second set of eyes before being made available.

My question surrounding the LDRS is whether it should have a deeper overhaul. With £8m of funding, how else could the LDRS work in a multi-media, multi-platform way? It was set up six years ago but has not evolved – that is the question that should be posed to the NMA and the BBC who run the Local News Partnership.

The second area of mixed frustration is around the impact platforms and the BBC is having on the ability of publishers to innovate.

The tech platforms:

The Digital Markets Competition and Consumer Bill is aimed at redressing the imbalance between the large digital platforms and local news publishers.

Firstly, the smaller hyper local publishers should not be excluded from this process and secondly – which is not explicit in the report’s recommendations… Get a Move On. This legislation is so long overdue and every day it delays, pressure mounts on the industry.

It is recognised that Google is a major funder of local news with £14m awarded to over 80 projects through partnerships with news organisations.

What has been the long-term benefit of this funding? There needs to be a greater sharing of learning across the whole of the news eco-system from this type of funding. There HAS been great innovation – but imagine how powerful that innovation might have been if the £14m of investment and funding had contributed to an industry-wide innovation fund that all publishers could benefit from

And this leads me to the recommendation to revisit the Future News Pilot Fund – and create a long-term public interest fund with a remit to support innovation. 

The last attempt run by Nesta produced nothing of substance for the industry – there were some great little ideas and some ones that were a total waste of money.

How about creating an innovation fund – with Tech platforms contributing – and a requirement that the schemes must be scalable to benefit the entire news eco-system?

My third observation of this report – is reserved for the wholly frustrating part of the recommendations.

And that is the lack of recommendation or any idea about how local journalism could be funded for the future.

  • The report suggests the BBC should look to expand its LDRS scheme – but that doesn’t help fund a sustainable business model.
  • It calls for the implementation of the Digital Markets Bill – but that only holds the prospect of a better bargaining relationship with the Tech platforms
  • And it calls for an innovation fund – which would be a nice to have but will not be properly funded unless some bold moves were taken by publishers and funders to invest in an industry-wide and regulated body.

No, what is still missing is any idea about how a model based on tax incentives should be introduced that rewards investment in journalists and journalism. One, that is equitable for and accessible by hyper locals and large corporates, maintains the separation between the Government and the Media, but nevertheless provides a sustainable way for publishers to invest in a new business model based around the quality of content they produce that is read or consumed by audiences in their local communities.

It has failed to look at other models around the world, for example in Canada, where a more sustainable tax-based incentivisation scheme exists, or looked to learn from the way the arts council operates here to support the arts industry.

And that is the opportunity missed by this latest inquiry that has largely failed to come up with an enduring solution for the sustainability of journalism – which surely was its brief.


Ofcom has got it wrong in saying the BBC expansion will not affect local media

As we embark on 2023, it is somewhat depressing to see the BBC about to be at loggerheads with the commercial news publishers all over again — this time because their controversial plans to expand their online news service has been approved by Ofcom.

There has been much hand-wringing, if not outright anger, at the decision by Ofcom to allow the BBC’s expansion plans — while at the same time contracting their local radio station service — effectively forcing their audience online to get their news.

The News Media Association has strenuously resisted these plans — but to no avail, with Ofcom making a materiality judgement that the plans to deploy 131 news journalists into the regions will not significantly impact the revenues of commercial news providers.

As a reminder, the plans involve creating 11 investigative reporting teams across the country and increasing its daily online news service for 43 local areas, including launching new websites for Bradford, Wolverhampton, Sunderland and Peterborough.

At the same time, it is axing 179 jobs in local radio and TV services.

Ofcom has pledged to closely monitor the impact the BBC expanded news service may have on total revenues of online local news providers, estimating it to be less than 1pc.

It says it will intervene if the actual impact of the BBC’s proposals on audiences is harmful to competition.

These are vacant words.

Let’s dissect the issue here as Behind Local News puts into context much of the debate that has followed this decision.

Ofcom has used a false measure to determine the impact the BBC may have on commercial news publishers.

Most news publishers are still grappling with finding a viable revenue stream to fund their journalism. Currently, very few have found a way of successfully charging readers to access their content. This leaves the main funding solution to be programmatic revenue.

It is true, a few more stories published by the BBC will not materially affect the programmatic revenue of the mega news sites operated by the likes of Reach, Newsquest and National World in particular.

But what it will do is provide enough of a news service to satisfy the news interests of a local audience, meaning that they won’t have to flit between different news providers.

And with news publishers searching for a viable reader-based revenue model, this is where it will hit hard. This will prevent them from locking content away behind a paywall or into a subscription service because that content will be freely available elsewhere.

So Ofcom has read this wrongly. There may well not be a big impact on revenues, but there definitely will be an impediment for publishers looking to progress with a reader-revenue-based digital model — something Enders has said is going to be vital to their survival.

The commercial news providers, which also include local radio in some instances, are not able to operate websites that give a pleasing user experience to their audiences because of the need to run advertising to fund their business models.

The BBC does not have this issue, indeed its Charter bans it from running advertising on its sites.

What this means is that if the BBC news service, particularly where it is launching dedicated sites in Wolverhampton, Sunderland, Peterborough and Bradford, offers enough of a local news service to satisfy the local audience, it will have a distinct market advantage over the commercial sites, which are slower to load and irritating to readers because they are weighed down by advertising.

Surely this market advantage should be taken into consideration.

So the Ofcom decision is baffling when it says: “We also consider that, while the proposals will mean that the volume of BBC online local news content may grow and attract more audience, it will not necessarily replace the interest in and consumption of commercial online local news content that already exists.”

The BBC will claim that simply providing one or two stories per day, set against the 30 or so stories published by the commercial publishers, will not provide effective competition.

However, if Ofcom had done its homework, it would have found that most online readers only view about two stories per visit to an online news site. If they can read those two stories on the BBC sites, then of course this will impact consumption on the commercial sites.

But this should not all be about the threat of the BBC. Commercial news publishers need to work a lot harder to provide unique journalism on their sites and provide a differentiation of news from what is freely available.

If they are to succeed in finding viable subscription and registration models, they need to improve the provision of journalist-generated stories that are unique to their sites. There is much work to be done here.

The Reuters Research Institute Digital Report 2022 provides worrying evidence that readers are turning away from news providers because they are not providing them with a news service they want to engage with.

This is a stark warning for commercial news providers that they need to up their game and have a radical rethink about what quality news actually means for their audiences.

But they now need to do this against a backdrop of facing increased competition from a news service that does not have the same challenges.

Ofcom’s promise that “if evidence emerges of harm to competition from the BBC’s ongoing activities in this area, we will not hesitate to step in using our BBC competition powers” are indeed, empty words.

My business, Chrysalis, can help media companies to focus on how to improve their content offering. I am working with 12 regional publishers and the Financial Times Strategy team to help them to discover ways of generating revenue from their websites. If you are interested, please contact me.


Digesting the World News Media Congress at Zaragoza with WAN-IFRA

More than 1,000 senior executives from the media industry around the world converged on Zaragoza at last week’s World News Media Congress for a three-day immersion in learning and sharing.

The menu was rich, diverse, satisfying, bite-sized as well as main courses – just as you would expect at the home of tapas – and most importantly it did not disappoint.

My starter at the conference was a discussion about the safety of journalists and threats to press freedom at a meeting of the World Editors’ Forum which took place on World News Day.

The threat and intimidation journalists face in going about their everyday duties was quite frankly horrifying, and scary to hear.

Threats and harassment were a common theme espoused by many journalist federations around the world – many attributed to political intimidation.

The upshot for many was that the actions of a state-supported campaign of intimidation and threats was having a chilling effect on the sort of coverage the state machinery did not want to see published.

And by creating such a hostile environment – there was a “trickle down” effect from governments to the people, breeding a belief that what we know as solid professional journalism was fake news.

In Poland, where Gazeta Wyborcza operates – and was awarded Wan-ifra’s coveted Golden Pen in recognition of their fight against state-sponsored oppression, we heard about the concerted attempts to quash public interest journalism and protest in their acceptance speech.

In many countries around the world, journalists are labelled tax evaders, money launderers, traders in fake information – to discredit them – leading to further intimidation and aggressive trolling.

So how can journalists around the world unite to stand with their sisters and brothers against this? We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this in the UK. For, while we may not witness this form of intimidation, we know every day our journalists are intimidated and threatened. It is just a matter of degree.

What questions does this raise for the tech platforms to help to protect our craft and to fight against disinformation?

To my mind, we need to recognise that this cannot be solved by one publisher or one country. Without solidarity we see a threat to freedom of journalism. 

So maybe the press organisations and their bodies around the world should pull together to lobby through the United Nations for press freedom to be recognised and enshrined.

On a lighter note we heard that collaboration can be key to helping small publishers thrive.

Henneo, a small local newspaper based in Aragon, where the Congress took place, has formed alliances with 15 publishing groups across Spain to work jointly on sharing tech platforms and monetisation strategies in a way that has helped to transform their fortunes that they could not have done individually. Surely this is a lesson for our small publishers here in the UK. To find out more, look at the Alayasn Media project. (https://www.alayans-media.com/)

One of the main topics of discussion was around quality and trust – two small words that carry such importance in our drive to shift away from advertising models and enable us to move towards persuading readers to pay for the content we are serving up to them.

Rasmus Nielsen, Director of Reuters Institute, was sharing a stage with Lisa MacLeod (FT Strategies) and Dean Roper (Wan-ifra), Professor Nielsen talked about the disconnect between what journalists think is important in terms of trust and what readers think is important.

Lisa revealed the work of the FT Strategies team in their sustainability of journalism index – a new tool pointing to what are the key indicators for a sustainable future and how it can be used by publishers across the world to assess the viability of their business model. We will be hearing a lot about this in the future.

Staying with sustainability there were two important announcements that will benefit many publishers in the future – both funded by the Google News Initiative. 

The Financial Times, via its consultancy FT Strategies, and Google have negotiated a three-year programme to support more than 500 publishers in 50 countries to deliver sustainable growth strategies – an extension of the successful Digital Revenues Launchpad run here in the UK.

It will focus on reader revenue, products and technology, data and audience engagement and diversity. Read more here https://aboutus.ft.com/press_release/ft-strategies-google-news-initiative

The second initiative was an extension to Wan-ifra’s successful Tablestakes programme that is also helping news organisations around the world find a path to funding models based on reader engagement and reader revenues. https://wan-ifra.org/2022/09/new-round-of-tables-stakes-europe-2023/

On the same stage as this was announced, we heard from David Higgerson, chief digital publisher at Reach plc, about how they have benefited from the programme with their newsletter strategy – now totalling 300 across the group; Khalil Cassimally of The Conversation – with an enlightening look at their model of providing quality content through collaboration with the university network; Margret Muller, of Rheinische Post Mediengruppe, on how they have engaged with different audiences in a project across their whole newsroom, and Patric Hamsch with a similar story at NWT Media.

There was so much on the menu at this Congress, that this blog will not do it justice, but one parting thought was the recurring theme about why we still do not have diversity in gender, race and disability in our newsrooms. A debate without conclusion – but a pledge for publishers to sign up and commit to doing what they can to improve the situation in their businesses.

It will be interesting to see what 2023 brings in terms of change here.


What have we learned about leadership?

Wouldn’t it be a fitting tribute to the late Queen if we could perhaps continue to live the way we have been doing in the past 10 days for a little longer.

Let’s talk about politics – we have seen a suspension of the traditional yah boo politics across the benches in the Commons with a mutual respect for each other and the stories they have been able to tell about the leadership they witnessed from the late Queen.

This week, we have see a resumption of the political rhythm with and the new Prime Minister setting out her financial policies.

Liz Truss has one of those rare opportunities to show real leadership and reframe what politics in Britain could look like. No-one wants to see consensus politics with no disagreement – that is not a healthy democracy, but I, for one, want to see grown-up politics. 

Not everything has to be adversarial. Not everything has to be black and white, and not everything has to be reduced to the lowest common denominator of shouting derision across the 13 feet between the dispatch box and the opposition benches.

So Liz Truss and Sir Keir Starmer can show a new style of politics where healthy debate takes place and intelligent challenge – true leadership by demonstrating the tone and level of political debate their parties can follow.

What other leadership lessons may we have learned over the past two weeks?

1) We have heard a lot about the way the Queen used her experience to mentor, coach and influence those who sought out her advice.

The leadership lesson here is that you can have real influence even if you don’t have absolute power. Become widely read in your field, learn from those in your area of expertise who have mastered their craft, and share your knowledge with those who seek you out.

2) Visibility is an essential part of great leadership: The Queen lived out her promise to serve and be seen to serve with nearly 300 state visits around the globe. We also saw the power of visibility when King Charles stopped his limousine outside the gates of Buckingham Palace and greeted the waiting crowds. And his surprise walkabout with his son, Prince William, to meet the crowds queuing for the lying in state.

The leadership lesson here is to be seen to be the leader of your teams. You don’t have to always lead from the front – leading from the middle, rolling up your sleeves and being seen to be working with those who are working for you. Talk to your team. When I first became an editor and held small cluster meetings with staff, I heard many times how they had never had the opportunity to talk with their boss – that is crazy.

3) Learn from those around you: You cannot be an expert of everything – so make sure you build a team around you of people who know more than you do. Don’t fear their knowledge – embrace it in a “We” culture – acknowledging that together you are better and more powerful as a leadership team than the sum of your individual parts.

4) We have also heard about the humility that was often displayed during the past 70 years.

The leadership lesson here is that there is something powerful about showing your vulnerability. Be authentic, have humility and above all, have empathy. You will have heard that the best leaders are those who accept their frailties, talk about their concerns – but do so by embracing the positivity around this. Don’t scare your team members, but be prepared to be open with them. You are not expected to have all the answers all of the time – that is why you have a team.

5) While leading, you should lead with your own values at heart. We have heard about the concerns about whether the new king will continue pushing forward his own agenda on issues like climate change and the environment. He has become known while serving the Queen for his own views on what is best for the planet and is largely respected for those views.

The leadership lesson here is to run your own race. Don’t follow the crowd. Have your own set of values and bring them to the workplace every day. That is the only way to be seen as an authentic leader.

6) It was often said the Royal Family has lost touch with the general population on these isles and around the Commonwealth. The outpouring of grief, the overwhelming desire of so many people to show up and say thank you at the lying in state and the mountains of flowers laid at the palaces’ gates demonstrate that this was not the case.

The final leadership lesson here is to stay in touch with your team and your staff. Find ways to have open ways to communicate and seek out their ideas and thoughts. Surprise your staff with unexpected gestures of goodwill. Care about your people and they will care for you.

If you want to know more about how to build great leadership teams, if you want to enlist coaching support to become a modern leader, or if you want to know more about how to bring your team along a journey of change, then please get in touch with Chrysalis to talk about how we may be able to help.


What are we going to do with the problem of news avoidance?

News fatigue is becoming as familiar a phrase as fake news is to beat the news industry around the head with.

Even journalists, it seems, are finding themselves becoming fatigued about the news narrative. Alan Hunter (ex-Times and co-founder of HMB Advisory) this week recirculated a post from Washington Post columnist Amanda Ripley, who confessed she was finding herself avoiding the news because of its negativity.

Alan’s take on it was that most of the news being served up “is too relentlessly negative and consequently a turn-off”.

Why does this matter? Because the industry is struggling with some big issues that if it doesn’t resolve – paints a worrying picture for the future.

I decided to revisit the excellent Reuters Digital News Report released earlier this year because there are clear lessons to be learned – and a pathway to a hopeful future within it.

First the bad news:

News avoidance is on the rise in the UK – this is news fatigue and not just fatigue around Coronavirus.

Trust has fallen back in most countries surveyed.

Where there is selective news avoidance – there is a correlation with low trust.

There is increasing disconnection with news in print, radio and TV, while digital is flat.

More bad news:

There is a levelling off in the number of people subscribing for news – and the average age of a digital subscriber is around 50.

A large proportion of people subscribe to just a few national brands – bad news for the regionals.

The cost of living crisis is having a negative impact on this strategy.

Only 9% of people in the UK are paying for their news – the smallest percentage in all markets – and people in the UK don’t think they will increase the number of subscriptions in the year ahead.

Even registration is a problem, with only 16% per cent of UK people prepared to register email addresses – this will be increasingly important with the phasing out of third party cookies.

Most websites don’t have a clear enough value proposition to persuade people to do so.

So where is the hope?

Well, I think laying out the bad news allows us to focus on what we need to do.

In my view we are not seeing enough innovation and enough bravery to do something radically different.

Even those publishers and broadcasters who say they are doing something different – I would ask them to look at the Reuters report and ask themselves are they doing the right things and radically enough?

Take just one example: 

Many people are choosing to ration or limit their exposure to news – in the UK this has doubled to 46% of those surveyed who now say they avoid news sometimes or often – citing its repetitive nature, being worn out, lack of trust and brings down their mood.

Reuters quotes topics on political crises, international conflicts, global pandemics and climate as the ones turning people away the most – especially the younger audience – and yet this is the daily diet of most national publishers and broadcasters.

So how do we turn news avoidance into new consumption?

  • We need to embrace the notion of telling news differently. Having a Solutions Journalism approach to the news agenda and embedding this in the daily decision making is just one way of doing things differently. It requires a radically different approach in a newsroom.
  • The celebrated work of Dmitry Shishkin’s User Needs theory ( and the FT Strategies development of it)  embedded into daily news decision-making will throw a different focus on how to tell the same news in different ways and for different audiences.
  • What he is yet to do, and something we were experimenting with at my former employer Archant, was further analyse which audiences come for which type of user need and through which channel eg search, direct or social. That has a markedly different approach to how you decide to present the news and at what times.
  • Vice is really demonstrating how it is cracking the Tik Tok platform to make the worthy, negative news agenda interesting to a younger audience.
  • There is the beginning of a migration away from web-based and app-served news sites (according to Reuters)  – particularly among the young – and Facebook is dialling down its news focus. But learning how to tell news via Instagram and Tik Tok will help to engage with a younger audience. Once again, this won’t happen by osmosis – it needs real experts bringing about a new decision-making strategy and new structures in newsrooms. Merely having people in charge of engagement will not cut it.

I note with interest the announcement by Reach plc to put a focus on how to reach a youth audience and develop a new video strategy. 

A project we kicked off with younger people (once again while at Archant) gave some real insight into their attitude to traditional news brands and their affiliation to them. These social natives are highly unlikely to develop the loyalty to these brands that our over-50s have. Something borne out by the Reuters research.

So Reach may need to think about how they engage and what new launches they plan that don’t link to their existing brands.

Finally, on the debate about text vs video or audio – Younger audiences say they are more likely to watch the news – but still 55% say they mostly read it – a surprising statistic for me. They cite quicker access to information, poor video experience due to pre-roll adverts and less control than reading.

And podcasts are coming back in vogue – particularly with younger audiences. Generally, 34% or people listen to one or more podcast in a month.

Tortoise are pivoting more towards podcasting – recognising a rich vein of audience engagement here.

So in conclusion

Publishers are still struggling to come to terms with the structural changes that have ravaged the industry – says Reuters.

There is an increasing disconnection with the news agenda, with interest in it and trust decreasing.

The overwhelming depressing nature of news is not helping.

And paywalls and registration gates are putting barriers in the way of the best content.

However, a radical approach to the way we tell the news narrative and understand what it is our audiences actually want from us and how to serve it to them will address this.

New newsroom structures need to be in place to reflect the emerging channels that are engaging with audiences and an acceleration of video and audio news story telling will help to attract a younger audience.

The trick here is that a massive change needs to take place in newsrooms rather than tweaks to the way they do things. Bravery will be rewarded by audiences who feel their needs are being listened to.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com


What are we learning from the inquiry to find a solution for the sustainability of local journalism?

What conclusions can we draw from this week’s select committee inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism?

The  two sessions held in Cardiff heard initially from the largest publisher in the UK, Reach plc, as well as one of the smallest, Bedford Independent, with the panel also shared by the Media Reform Coalition. The afternoon was attended by the global behemoths of Meta (Facebook) and Google, and what many local commercial publishers questionably argue is their nemesis, the BBC.

My first conclusion is that misunderstanding of the media landscape and how it operates, which was apparent in the sessions, can be damaging to what opinions may form.

Myth One: We heard in the morning session that because publishers no longer had bricks and mortar offices in all of the towns and cities where they operate, they could not possibly understand and report on their local communities.

Myth buster:  So long as you have journalists operating in their local communities, whether they be embedded in offices, coffee shops, local libraries, or in  their own homes, then that connection is not broken. And it does not necessarily  (a key qualifier here) mean that news becomes the regurgitation of press releases and a failure to report critically on public interest news.

Recommendation: For the inquiry to form a proper view, they should commission some research to find out if this claim can be substantiated.

Myth Two: The demise of local newspapers in print means there are media deserts in the country.

Myth Buster: Audiences are choosing to “consume” their news on digital platforms. Our children will probably never buy a newspaper, but they will certainly be connected to their news via digital channels that reach wider audiences than they ever have done.

Myth Three: The drive for ever bigger audiences has led to more clickbait and the major publishers are guilty of this.

Myth Buster: Most publishers have a laser focus on engagement metrics with their audiences – that is how many times a user comes back to their sites, how long they dwell on an article or page and what level of commenting or sharing takes place. None of that happens if the content is clickbait.

What did resonate strongly, though, is that the independent publishers want to have a greater slice of the cake. They feel they are excluded from opportunities because they are not one of the now big three publishers (following the swallowing up of Archant by Newsquest).

Paul Hutchinson, from Bedford Independent – founded by three partners to bring independent, local news to the people of the town, set out how they are starved of Government and local authority revenue because they do not have a print element to their operation.

He called for a review of distribution of revenues which he said would enable them to pay themselves a proper salary and to pay for at least one trainee journalist.

Giving Independents a fair crack of the whip for public notices revenue and Government advertising, is a fair call, based on digital numbers, given declining print circulations. However, they will probably find that based on digital audiences, they will still be the minnows at the table.

That is why the big publishers are so keen to find an online solution quickly for public notice information  (with the support of Google funding by the way) to make sure they continue to hold on to that revenue.

It is fair to say that there are many titles, particularly those in London, who only survive now because of the level of Government and local council advertising they receive.

While I’m on the subject of funding:

Myth Four: The BBC Local Democracy Reporting Scheme – set up to provide free content to more than 850 partners across the UK – is a subsidy to the big publishers.

Myth Buster: Patently not true. Each contract has to be bid for along strict criteria in a fair and transparent process run by the BBC. The cost of running the contract sometimes exceeds the money attached to it, factoring in HR, management and content supervision; and thirdly, it is probably simpler for independents to receive the copy than to manage an additional member of staff, be monitored by the BBC, and be at the beck and call of other publishers wanting to direct how the local democracy reporter is deployed each day.

This brings me to the afternoon session and the role of the BBC and tech giants of Meta and Google.

Their arguments were highly polished, with an abundance of stats and figures, to make them look like the knights in shining armour for local publishers.

My question is this: If everything we heard from Google and Meta were to be taken at face value and believed, then why on earth are the commercial publishers, both large and small, so unhappy with them?

This is the challenge the DCMS inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism will have to get to grips with.

Tom Morrison-Bell, Government Affairs and Public Policy manager at Google, said that the revenue Google received from ads served on searches for news in the UK was less than £20m per year in the UK. Yet, the amount of traffic they sent back to local publishers was valued (by them) at £84m.

He also said that between 70p and 95p of every £1 of Google ad revenue is returned to local publishers.

John Severinson, Head of News Partner Development, Europe at Meta was equally at pains to say there was nothing to see in terms of unfairness. He said that their relatively new Facebook News tab in the US for example generated more than 90% of clicks that were incremental to US publishers’ traffic.

And they had signed deals with publishers big and small over here in the UK for this service. What he omitted to say, and this is something that the Digital Markets Bill really does need to look at, is that it is a take it or leave it deal. The publishers have no ability to negotiate a fair value for that content. I know, because I tried – and I was not the only publisher trying to do so.

One of the main cheerleaders for a fairer value exchange for commercial publishers, came from the BBC through Rhodri Talfan-Davies, Head of Nations. On repeated occasions he stressed that it was not the BBC that was to blame for the demise of the commercial publishing sector, and the route to a more sustainable future was through a fairer remuneration and value exchange based on the content Google and Facebook benefited from.

He called for regulation to be used to force a fairer value exchange for publishers big and small, citing that it was the publishers spending the money putting reporters on the ground to report on what is happening in their communities – and there is a need for “a levelling up” in terms of a fairer value exchange if a plurality of publishing is to be preserved.

Finishing up he said: “It is not beyond the wit of UK policy makers to find a balance that works for platforms and publishers.”

Bearing in mind that the call for evidence for this inquiry was heavily weighted at looking at what impact the BBC was having on sustainability of commercial publishers, it was probably not a surprise he was championing their cause.

But when questioned if the BBC could do more to support commercial publishers by providing more links back to their sites, he conceded that “was a live question”.

He robustly argued: “I don’t believe the BBC is the root cause of newspapers’ structural problems” and that its commitment to serving local news was part of their Charter requirements. To that end, he reiterated a reprioritisation of the local journalism network with a commitment to invest more journalists into the local online service – something which will frustrate (to put it mildly) the big publishers.

And so to my opening question – a long time ago – what conclusions can we draw from the inquiry?

For me, it is that Julian Knight who is chairing the DCMS inquiry, has his work cut out to cut through what is myth, data, misinformation and corroborated evidence to come up with any recommendations that differ from what has already been laid out by Dame Frances Cairncross.

The Digital Markets Bill will not be the panacea for the industry, but it is at least a starting point for regulation of the tech platforms that may lead to a fairer revenue share for publishers who pay to produce locally relevant and trusted content.

The BBC is not the cause of the demise of the commercial publishing sector (if indeed you subscribe to the fact that it is in demise) – but does have  an important influence in its future and its ongoing challenges.  

The Independent sector needs to have a stronger voice to be able to compete for revenues.

The tech platforms need to stop being in denial that they are a problem to the industry and be more transparent in the way they can offer support both monetary and through innovation – they are pivotal to this debate.

And the commercial sector needs to spend far less time blaming others and look to themselves about how they can work together and with the Independents  to share ideas and innovation, while still accepting they compete in some territories, so that collectively they can improve the quality of local journalism provision.

Finally, the Government – if it is to help to ensure a continuing plurality of news in every local community – needs to forge a working coalition of all the players to find common ground.

It’s a tough challenge for Mr Knight and his inquiry team.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

How one regional media business is finding a new audience through Tik Tok

Last month, I wrote about how news outlets are trying to reach a younger audience by engaging with them via Tik Tok. Here, Social Media and Engagement Manager Autumn Lewis talks about the recent successes she has been having via their Tik Tok platform at the Norwich Evening News.

Tik Tok home page

TikTok has quickly risen through the ranks and is now the third-largest social media network, it’s no wonder that businesses are moving into this platform to target the younger demographic and to increase the longevity of their brands. 

As the Social Media & Engagement Manager for Archant, I am certainly looking at TikTok to take our social media to the next level. There is a huge gap in the market for regional news to takeover TikTok and get local community news in front of a younger audience. 

Regional news has found a comfortable place with the traditional social platforms such as, Facebook and Twitter. However, these channels have uncertainty around them as to whether they are sustainable amongst a younger demographic. With the rise of Instagram and TikTok, it’s time that regional publishers start putting more efforts into these other platforms.  

60% of TikTok’s audience are 16-24 years old and national publishers such as BBC, The Telegraph and Daily Mail have shown the hunger for news on this platform which is proven by their large following and view stats. They have shown that publishers don’t need to change their branding to fit in with a younger audience, we just need to package our news up and present it to them a little differently to what we are used to.  

At Archant, we’ve seen the benefits of using TikTok to reach and engage with not only a younger audience, but a brand-new audience to us. 

In March this year, we constructed a social strategy for the Norwich Evening News to make its debut on TikTok. We launched the TikTok on International Women’s Day and celebrated the local women working in our newsroom and even did a viral TikTok dance.  

From there, our goal was to increase brand visibility amongst our new audience. We posted twice a day, every day, for 30 days and we then started seeing big results.  

Our content varied between jumping on TikTok trends, celebrating Norwich and what’s on content. We’ve kept it light-hearted and fun to showcase everything you can do in Norwich with a few playful trends here and there. The more we posted, the more we understood what our audience wanted to see from us and from there we built our TikTok from the ground up.  

In our first month, we accumulated over 1,000 followers on this platform and multiple videos were watched by over 30,000 people.

TikTok can be difficult when growing your following as the visibility comes from the FYP (For You Page) in the app. Users spend the majority of the time on the FYP as the feed has been curated based on what TikTok suggests what the viewer may like. There is so much content going into this part of the app by multiple users so you really need to make an impact and grab their attention. With social media platforms now just a place to scroll, we aim to capture their attention within the first two seconds and keep them on our video and profile.  

TikTok is an exciting platform for publishers because there is so much opportunity for growth and trying something a bit different to typical social media practice. We’ve very much kept our Norwich Evening News TikTok fun and enticing initially and it’s working well for us, but it’s not to say we won’t move into sharing harder news on this platform. With the potential virality of TikTok there are unlimited opportunities with what publishers can do and I think it’s an exciting chance to see something different from local publishers.  

With the fast results we’ve seen from Norwich Evening News on Tiktok, we are now looking to extend our efforts for our other daily newspaper titles. 

Why can’t everyone work together to find answers?

This week saw the opening of the inquiry led by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport into the sustainability of local journalism.

This is not the first time an inquiry like this has been held, and exasperatingly, it will not be the last.

And yet, we are still rehearsing the same old issues, challenges and failing to find the answers.

The seminal report by Dame Frances Cairncross (Feburary 2019) appeared to set out a roadmap for the industry, calling for a number of initiatives to be put into place.

Publishers warned that there was no time to lose and unless action was taken immediately, titles would close, leaving gaps in coverage across our communities.

She called for a system of regulation for the tech and online platforms and for them to be compelled to work constructively with the news industry; The Government should explore direct funding for local news and new tax reliefs to support public interest journalism; And an Institute for Public News to be set up to oversee a new innovative fund for the future of local and regional press.

Three years later and we are sill waiting.

The only real measure that is finally looking like working its way onto the statute books is the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill that may force the Tech platforms to give a greater proportion of revenue earned on the back of journalism created by publishers, back to the commercial sector.

And so to the inquiry led by Julian Knight MP in which industry experts were invited to give their views about what should be done to support the sustainability of local journalism.

Owen Meredith, chief executive of the News Media Association, representing 900 titles gave evidence and his views about the threats to the local industry he represents.

In the firing line was the BBC and the Tech platforms.

He bemoaned the fact the BBC was intending to recruit more digital journalists into regions well stocked by the local commercial sector which would present a competitive threat to those titles.

While he acknowledged the success of the Local Democracy Reporter Scheme, the key delivery from the Local News Partnership set up between the BBC and the NMA, he said the BBC was now planning to encroach on territory they should not be entering.

Asked what should be done about it, we heard from Owen saying that an agreement should be struck between the BBC and the commercial sector about what sort of news the BBC should produce.

Responding to a question at the inquiry he said: “What the BBC has proposed is to recruit local digital journalists directly competing with what my members are doing. The BBC is coming into a space and by having a presence in the digital space, they stifle the passive demand for news.”

He went on to say that trying to negotiate with the BBC was problematic. “We can come up with a much better model. We are asking them to come to the table but they are not forthcoming in terms of genuine negotiation.”

So, my first point is why on earth is the NMA and the BBC still unable to find agreement when the Local News Partnership, which I had played a leading role in setting up at the time, is acknowledged by both sides as “a force for good”?

Publishers cannot agree among themselves about how to deal with the BBC and meanwhile, the BBC appears not to be able to work with the NMA on these policy decisions.

The inquiry then turned its attention to the likes of Facebook and Google. And once again, we heard the same old complaints.

Mr Meredith quoted a figure of £1bn of news value being redirected by Google and Facebook away from the commercial sector with an unfair balance of power meaning that there was not a fair return of that revenue back into the newsrooms.

The inquiry asked if the Digital Markets Bill would help to resolve this issue to which Mr Meredith said it needed action now.

Yet, there is once again a failure in getting the whole of the industry together to find solutions.

Meanwhile Rome continues to burn. As Mr Meredith told the inquiry: “I would very much like to see the bill published as soon as possible. We have had seemingly endless consultation. The consequences of delay and not seeing a level playing field will be the closure of more smaller titles.”

In his opinion, Google and Facebook are supportive of the concept of regulation.

So, if a Bill is coming, the NMA want urgent action and the Tech platforms are supportive of some kind of change, then it does beg the question, what is preventing them all, including the BBC, from getting around the negotiating table and finding a solution?

This is where the DCMS needs to step in and demonstrate leadership. They have all the cards. They can bring the BBC to the table through the mechanism of the Charter and its renewal. They hold the power through the Digital Markets Bill to bring the Tech platforms to a discussion, and they should be asking tougher questions of the key players within the industry about how co-ordinated they actually are in finding solutions.

This is not a problem of the BBC and Tech platforms against the news industry. This is a problem of a massive failure to find a way of working together to find a solution for the long-term sustainability of our industry.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

Is Tik Tok the Instagram of the future for newsrooms?

This week the Society of Editors held its Future of News annual conference — where there was a definitive shift towards debate about how to solve the future needs of our audiences.

Kicking off the day and setting the theme throughout most of the sessions was the question of how newsrooms , from the big orthodox brands, such as the BBC, through to start-ups like the new News Movement, embrace new platforms and integrate them into their news distribution operations.

It seems most publishers have barely got to grips with the impact Instagram can bring to their brands when there is already a new kid on the Block — Tik Tok.

Since its launch in 2016 Tik Tok has essentially been seen as the preserve of the young — with around 43% of its global audience between 18 and 24-years-old. And 32% between 25 and 34. (Source: Social Shepherd, quoting Tik Tok’s press information)

And its popularity exploded during the pandemic lockdown as the app reached one billion active users, allowing it to provide entertainment to its community all around the globe.

But now it is being taken seriously for its ability to reach the holy grail of a younger audience by news brands.

While many traditional newsbrands had previously written off the younger generation as being news atheists and difficult to reach, there is a growing and rapid realisation that this generation really does care about news — just not the way they are served it at the moment.

As Kamal Ahmed (Editor-in-Chief of The News Movement) offered up as he chaired the panel session on Engaging with the Future, “There is a thirst for trusted and engaging news” And “there is an under-supply of trusted and engaging news on social channels even though that’s where most young people live.”

It is this realisation which is now forcing the news providers to think again about Tik Tok.

As Naja Nielsen, Digital Director, BBC News, and panel member said: “There is a reason why we, as an old media, have been left by the young crowd and we need to adapt.”

The question is how do we do this. It shouldn’t be by replicating the mistakes we have made with Snap Chat and even Facebook by creating news to mimic their platforms. We need to adapt our news provision to those channels while maintaining our brand values and identity.

In her opinion, and one that is generally shared, it is not about trying to get the younger generation to identify with your mature brand now, it is about getting them used to interacting with your brand on the platforms of their choice and then developing that relationship with them.

The challenge we have in attracting a younger audience is not about journalism, it is about making it accessible to them.

Nabihah Parkar, Video Producer for Vice World News, offered this advice: Be authentic and natural to the platform, by using tools such as emojis, pop ups etc; Experiment with different formats and have fun with it.

She told how she was able to tackle a serious issue such as the Ukraine War and what NATO was through a 40-second explainer from her kitchen.

“We have seen in Ukraine there is an appetite for news. We know we need journalism. We need to know what we want to be best at — and that is informing everyone about what’s really happening.”

The bottom line is that social platforms, such as Tik Tok, will be transient by their nature but they should be seen as a place of discovery for orthodox news brands to discover how to interact with a younger audience of the future.

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com

Breaking the bias in the newsroom: International Women’s Day 2022

TUESDAY (March 8) sees the marking of International Women’s Day, where countries all over the world unite in the celebration of women’s achievements. 

This year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias” – where we are being asked to imagine a gender equal world, free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. 

We know that across all business sectors women leadership is under-represented – and that is certainly true in the media industry. And with that comes a bias in so many areas of our work. 

Gender imbalance leads to content imbalance – lack of diversity and lack of inclusion. And to complete the circle, with this lack of balance, diversity and inclusion, there is a lack of female role models in the media, which perpetuates the problem. 

Over the past decade, we have seen an improvement in women leadership at the top of content functions, with far more female editors than previously. 

Here at Archant, I am pleased to see how the number of female editors has increased – yet I am the first to admit we have more to do. 

One of the keys to that is ensuring there is a development plan in place for up-and-coming talent. Over the past 12 months we have promoted more women to managerial positions than ever before, creating new roles and seeing the talent come through. 

If you look at female leadership at other major publishers, it is a similar story. 

However, the facts speak for themselves. According to research conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2021, across 240 brands in four continents: 

  • Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women. Looking only at the 10 markets we covered in 2020 and again in 2021, 23% of top editors are women, the same percentage as last year. 
  • In the UK while there was around a 50-50% split in the number of females working in journalism, just under 30% of women were occupying editor positions in 2020.  

But merely having women in charge does not guarantee a shift in the type of content we produce and the right amount of inclusion. A flick through the pages of most titles’ print editions will reveal a gender imbalance towards white, middle-aged men occupying the columnist spots. 

The leader of a news organisation cannot single-handedly change the tone of news coverage. 

As Suzanne Franks says in her book, Women and Journalism, there are still enduring stereotypes in the media industry. There is still a bias towards women in features and lifestyle sections, rather than in crime or sport. Women are far less likely to be seen on the front page or homepages of news brands. 

She quotes in her book that this leads to a tendency of belief that “Men’s news is to write on the front page that a fire happened, women’s news is to write inside why the guy lit a fire. “ (Johnson 2003). 

And this imbalance in leadership roles in our newsrooms means there is a missing perspective of women in news. 

What should we be doing to pick up the challenge from IWD this year?

To quote Alison Phillips, chair of Women In Journalism, and Editor of The Mirror: “The media is the prism through which the world sees itself. For it to be fair and accurate, we need all kinds of people from a host of diverse backgrounds telling all sorts of stories. That makes great journalism.” 

We need to make sure more women’s voices are heard through the content creation process. 

Even if we don’t have women editors, why can’t we ask them to lead news conferences, so that (1) they gain experience in the decision-making process and (2) they can influence the type of content that is created and, more importantly, how it is sourced. 

We should conduct a regular audit of our titles and websites for male/female imbalance – through the number of faces, people quoted, and opinion pieces being published and work harder to ensure it is more representative of the population split. 

Sport remains the bastion of the male journalist with an embarrassing paucity of female sports writers. What can we learn from the likes of Sky and the BBC who have managed to break this vice-like grip of male sports reporting? 

The National Council for the Training of Journalists has been trying to tackle this issue for several years now.   

Back in 2019/2020 it secured a partnership with NIKE to provide a free women’s sports journalism course, which delivered the Certificate in Foundation Journalism qualification to twenty students. 

It is also in talks with Sky Sports News to find ways to encourage more women to participate, too.  

Joanne Butcher, NCTJ chief executive, said: “It is still very much a topical issue for us and something we are really focused on.” 

We also need to work much harder in ensuring we don’t fall guilty of unconscious biases. We should screen our job advertising for male-preference vocabulary. Interview panels should ensure there is even gender balance, we can and should monitor the attrition rate through the recruitment process of women from job application to appointment. 

I am not an advocate of positive discrimination. I believe people should succeed to roles based on their capability. But unless we monitor things like these, the prospect of change will be glacial. 

And that does nothing for our ability to challenge the bias – conscious or otherwise – in our profession – which fits the theme of International Women’s Day 2022. 

This blog is my personal opinion: If you have an opinion about this or any other matter on this blog, please email me celebratingjournalism11@gmail.com