Written evidence submitted by The Chartered
Institute of Journalists
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ)
is the world's oldest professional association of journalists
and operates under a Charter granted in 1890 by HM Queen
Victoria. This charter compels us to look after the good interests
of all aspects of journalismand we include in this responsibility
the interests of readers ... something that has been absent from
this current debate on the crisis affecting newspapers.
We represent staff and freelance journalists
across all sectors of the media including local and national newspapers,
periodicals, broadcasting and electronic publishing.
The CIoJ is not against digital forms of news
presentation but we do believe it is an additional form of delivery
rather than being instead of traditional print formats. The Internet
has become a bandwagon onto which people have climbed with little
care or regard to its immense drawbacks and are seeking to impose
on the public a form of news delivery that is not necessarily
more efficient and more convenient to the customersin other
words, the readersthan the traditional, everything-in-one-place
newspaper or magazine.
We ask the Committee members to use their own
personal experiences of searching for items on the Internet compared
to the ease of the format of their own local newspaper! How many
sites would you have to visit to glean the same amount of detailed
information that you find in your local press? This is just one
aspect of our concern for readers.
We hope that our point-by-point observations
on your request for views on the future for local and regional
media will explain many of our concerns and we do request that
we are invited to participate in any hearing that the Select Committee
may decide to hold in order to answer any points its members may
care to raise.
1. The impact on local media of recent and
future developments in digital convergence, media technology and
changing consumer behaviour
The Chartered Institute acknowledges that the
advent of the Internet has had an impact on local and regional
media, particularly with the migration of advertising from hard
print to web-based formats. However, the transition is still in
a state of flux and long-term predictions can not necessarily
be drawn right now. It may be that in time what advertisers will
want is a combined print/web package linked to a trusted brand,
which local newspapers will be able to offer.
Advertising in traditional local and regional
newspapers is largely aimed at local readers and is largely irrelevant
to world-wide readers of newspaper websites. Also, the quality
of web readership is questionablelooking at reader responses
to stories on websites, one is struck by the quantity of "graffiti"
posted by people whom advertisers would not wish to entertain!
The question of availability is of utmost importance.
Traditional newspapers are easy, "purchaseable" items,
costing a few pence; Access to the Internet is expensiveand
beyond the means of a large part of the British population.
There appears to be a paucity of research on
the reach of the Internet and we believe that large sections of
the British public just do not have ready access. Ofcom published
some figures which showed that 72% of over-65s do not have a computerand
of the 28% who do, 95% of them do not use a computer as a prime
source of news, preferring newspapers, radio and television as
the means for obtaining day-to-day information. (Interestingly,
research just published by the American-based Scarborough Research
Group, shows that only 4% of the American public use news sites
as their sole source of newsa remarkably similar figure
to Ofcom's 95% observation.) The Office of National Statistics
2007 survey found that 39% of low income families did not
have computer or Internet facilities.
We believe that for as much as 40% of the British
public, Internet news is a non-event. This would be a staggering
proportion of excluded people if newspapers were allowed to fall
by the wayside. The many hundreds of pounds required to set up
an installation is a luxury people on the limitations of pension
income or state benefits can ill afford. Until such time as these
commodities become much cheaperor the Government provides
huge subsidies in one form or anotherthese people will
remain "the forgotten many".
We invite the Committee to encourage a Government-sponsored
detailed survey into computer ownership and the uses people put
them to, to establish a base line from which to consider other
aspects of news development on the Internet.
2. The impact of newspaper closures on independent
local journalism and access to local information
The present crisis in British regional and local
newspapers has not necessarily been brought on by the advent of
the Internet. The recent wave of redundancies among journalists
has been centred on the larger groups. Still-independently owned
local newspapers have been conspicuous by their lack of job cuts.
We believe that some newspaper groups' managements
have been wooed too much by viewsnot factsof the
future of news delivery and in doing so have lost sight of their
main purpose in life, which is to produce newspapers that are
valued by their readers.
In a question: Have readers deserted newspapers,
or have newspapers deserted their readers by introducing ill-thought-out
changes, reductions in some vital areas of coverage and staff
economies that are giving readers a less value for money impression?
When people say "I have stopped buying the such-and-such
paper because there's nothing in it," they probably mean
there is no longer anything in it that is of interest to them.
One reason, we believe, is that managements
are demanding of journalists more than can be reasonably expected.
While the term "journalism" covers all aspects of news
delivery, there are very important differences in the disciplines
involved in newspaper, radio and television news production. To
demand, as some managements are doing, that one reporter provides
print, audio and video reports of one story is expecting too much
if each presentation is to be done competently and professionally.
The result is that the reader, listener or viewer is getting a
poorer quality version. The old adage of "each to his own
trade" applies equally well to professional news presentation.
The CIoJ is very concerned by the recent arrival
of the Local Media Alliance formed by the Big Seven publishing
groups to campaign for a relaxation of the media merger regime.
These groups have found themselves in serious financial difficulties
because of the conduct of their businesses in recent years.
During the good economic times we have been
through, they have been on spending sprees building up huge stables
of titles on borrowed money. Now that the economy has turned sour,
they are finding it difficult to fund their repaymentseven
though they remain very profitable. Johnston Press, for instance,
recently reported trading profits of about £128million but
debts of £484million.
These groups have responded by cutting costs
to the bone and wielding an axe on staff numbers that has seen
more than 1,000 journalists made redundant in the last year,
cutting circulation areas, closing or amalgamating titles, reducing
or eliminating editions, closing offices and centralising production
facilities. This is bound to have an effect on news content, alienate
readers' perceptions of value for money and lead to diminishing
We are greatly concerned that the ideas of the
Local Media Alliance have not been published to enable a wider
public examination of them. We note that the Alliance reportedly
sent a 108-page submission to the Office of Fair Trading's examination
of the calls for relaxing the merger regime, with the request
that it remain secret because it contained commercial confidentialities.
We hope that a British law will not be changed
on the basis of a secret document being considered behind closed
doors. We urge the Select Committee to open up that particular
situation to public scrutiny.
The only published information (to date) on
the plans of the Alliance have come in a short Channel 4 News
interview with Roger Parry, its chairman, (a verbatim transcript
of that interview is appended)
and a short story in the Financial Times. Quoting from
Mr Parry's remarks to Channel 4 when asked to forecast the
future shape of news, he replied: "I think that the core
idea of local journalists understanding local people and local
communities will sustain exactly as it does today. The differences
will be they are going to be working towards a 24-7 website
with a lot of audio on it, a lot of video on it, and that website
will be used to produce a weekly publication which will be a more
cost effective way of serving that local community."
That is a frightening proposition. It is a declaration
of withdrawal from its traditional products, the creation of increased
competition with local radio and television stations (which are
also under their own particular pressures) and the abolition of
local morning and evening newspapers and their replacement by
weekly editions compiled from the contents of those websites.
Talk about treating readers with scant regard!
What about the large proportion of British society that does not
have access to their websites? Are they to be jettisoned?
3. How to fund quality local journalism
We are generally against any form of subsidy
or grant from public funds to help regional and local press in
this time of crisis because we believe such money would be used,
by and large, to alleviate the debts built up by these groups
and will not serve the interests of journalists or their readers.
What we do suggest is that consideration is
given to a specially created Government loan fund from which newspapers
could borrow, at suitable 'soft' interest rates, to cover up to
50% of their editorial costs (mainly journalists' salaries and
the expense of news gathering) with repayments to be made over
time once the nation's annualised GDP returns to a pre-determined
level. This would enable newspapers, and possibly local radio
and television, survive the present crisis without the need to
cut back on news coverage to the detriment of the most important
people in our industrythe readers.
4. The appropriateness and effectiveness
of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly
by public sector bodies at the local level
While the Chartered Institute recognises the
advantages of local authority and other public bodies' websites
as a means of publishing corporate information, our "availability"
reservations also applyif 40% of the population is excluded
by economic factors then these organisations face a critical communications
gap which is best filled by use of local print/broadcast media.
The role in a newspaper in the conduct of a
democracy cannot be under-estimated. Local newspapers are a vital
link in local democracy with their ability to examine and question
local authority decision making. It is also a means of conveying
information to the public. You only have to ask yourselves, as
Members of Parliament, the value you gain from your local publications
as a link with your constituents and think how much more difficult
it will be for you to keep in touch with your electorate without
those columns to report your activities. It presents you with
a nightmare situationparticularly at election times!
We deprecate the growth of local council newspapers.
These are publicity vehicles promoting the corporate interests
of the authority with no room for a critical examination of those
interests in the way that local newspapers do so well. This is
not serving the cause of democracy.
We believe that local authorities and organisations
functioning from the public purse should be mandated to advertise
in local media any proposal involving the spending of taxation
funds and particularly so when contracts and jobs are involved.
5. The role and effects of search engines
and online content aggregators on local media
6. The future of local radio and television
The CIoJ suggested to the Ofcom inquiry into
the future of public service broadcasting that the possibility
of local newspapers providing news services to regional television
and local radio output has, to some extent, been taken up but
we question the financial ability of local newspaper companies
to undertake to run their own stations. (Recently, the Manchester
Evening News announced the redundancy of 41 of the 100 staff
involved in the production of its Channel M internet servicemost
newspapers could not sustain those staffing levels). The core
skills for journalists in print, radio and television are different
and expecting all journalists to supply individual versions of
news stories for each media and maintain professional quality
is unrealistic. Remember the adage: Horses for courses!
The developing situations with regional television
cutting back on its local coverage, and the development of regional
news hubs among chains of local radio stations are denying the
public of worthwhile local news services.
7. The desirability of changes to the regulatory
framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media
ownership and merger regulations
The Chartered Institute would like to see firm
proposals before adopting a definite position but any change to
media ownership regulations should provide a means for guaranteeing
the survival of titles and not introduce cosy arrangements whereby
groups could swap ownership of newspapers to enable titles to
be absorbed and plurality reduced.
We have suggested that any future merger application
should demand written guarantees of intentions to maintain editorial
coverage in titles and that any change to those written undertakings
should only be permitted after an inquiry by a competent government-appointed
8. The opportunities and implications of
BBC partnerships with local media
We prefer to wait until fuller details of the
BBC offer emerge. Generally speaking, BBC local radio content
is similar to existing news coverage by printed titles. We would
not necessarily oppose such partnerships which may add more content
to local media websites. However, the necessity for plurality
9. The extent of plurality required in local
Plurality obviously introduces competitive aspectsgood
for advertisers and good for journalists. Journalists always work
better in the knowledge that their output is being compared to
that of rival publications. It should be maintained and encouraged.
10. Incentives for investment in local content
Financial investment from local interests should
be encouraged for the input of both local knowledge and interest
from the investors but the mega-groupings of the last decade has
negated its importance. If any of these major groups should fail,
the sale of their local title assets to local investors should
be encouraged. As far as input from local interest groups is concerned,
well-run local newspapers do "listen to their readers"
and accommodate their concerns etc within their columns.
11. Opportunities for "ultra-local"
The Chartered Institute has no objection to
Internet-based ultra-local media services and believes that experiments
in their production and promotion will determine their future.
Good services will attract an audience, bad ones won't! A lot
depends on the quality of local initiatives.
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