Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Skillset


  1.  This submission is not confidential and it is made on behalf of Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for the Creative Media covering the sectors: Television, Film, Radio, Animation, Interactive Media, Computer Games, Photo Imaging, Facilities, Publishing [21] and other content creation.

  2.  Skillset is an independent, industry-led organisation; jointly funded by industry and government, our job is to make sure that the UK creative media industries have the right people, with the right skills, in the right place, at the right time, so that our industries remain competitive.


  3.  As Ofcom has observed in the report on the Second Phase of Public Service Broadcasting: "Ofcom's research has demonstrated that viewers believe that news not just for the devolved nations but also the English regions is the main priority in television for the nations and regions. The research also demonstrated that news is the genre in which plurality is most important to audiences in the devolved nations. […] This comes at a time when the future of regional and local newspapers and radio faces unprecedented challenges thus endangering what has traditionally been the spine of local and regional journalism across the UK and the training of the UK's young journalists traditionally provided in the regional and local media." [22]

  4.  Both Ofcom and Government through the anticipated Digital Britain report are expected to make recommendations that will provide alternative models—most notably the idea of news consortia. Although Skillset does not feel appropriate to comment on the detail of these proposals, we would like to see an address to people's development and training and skills development built into any solution proposed because this is an essential ingredient in achieving a sustainable local and regional media economy.

  5.  As the Sector Skills Council for creative media, this is an area where we could offer support and expertise as we uniquely bring all prospective partners together in our footprint.

  6.  A call to consider training was articulated by Andy Burnham in his speech at IPPR conference of 22 January 2009. He put great emphasis on finding a sustainable solution which includes provision for training and skills: "It is time to develop a sensible strategy that uses the converging nature of journalism to sustain a vital local media. […] The prize here is the opportunity to create entry points to the creative industries at the local level by providing apprenticeships, skills training, work experience and jobs. We must break a culture where jobs in the media go to the people whose parents have contacts for internships or where they can afford to support people in unpaid positions." [23]

  7.  Similarly, Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt highlighted in the Conservatives current "Save Our Local Press" campaign that: "It is now time to allow new industry models to emerge that will encourage investment not just in local papers but local online services and new local TV companies." [24]This implies investment for a hybrid of new skills (technological, creative and business) to support these new models—skills is also one of the areas to be covered in the current Conservatives review of Creative Industries.

  8.  The current economic environment together with technological change is impacting on traditional business models which rely on advertising income. This in turn has led to newspaper closures and redundancies in sales, marketing and journalism across the creative media. And whereas companies have cut or are thinking to revise or reduce their training budgets, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills warns that "research confirms that firms that don't train are 2.5 times more likely to fail than those who do. Now is precisely the time to keep investing in the skills and talents of our people." [25]At the moment many of new entrant schemes are jeopardised and there is little or no support for continuous professional development programmes and technical or business skills training, which poses the question as to whether these companies are planning in the most effective way to manage their future in a changed environment.

  9.  Skillset believes that the need to maintain a highly-skilled, flexible workforce and allow the flow of new and diverse creative talent is essential to the future of regional and local media economies. The ability to produce high quality local content that supports plurality, citizenship and democratic values relies heavily on the ability of the people working in across the UK Creative Media industries to have the talent, skills and capacity to deliver it.

  10.  Furthemore, in the interim Digital Britain report's five main objectives, the need for "UK content for UK users … in particular impartial news, comment and analysis" is followed by "fairness and access for all: universal availability coupled with the skills and digital literacy to enable near-universal participation in the digital economy and digital society".[26] The importance of skills development particularly for the digital economy is highlighted further in the description of the digital economy skills: "The digital economy relies upon these hybrid professionals who can bridge technology, creativity and business", and concludes that "there is more work to be done to strengthen the understanding of the ways for education and business to work together to create the skilled workers and leaders which business needs." [27]

  11.  At Lord Carter's request Skillset, working in partnership with e-skills UK, submitted a comprehensive response and action plan on skills for Digital Britain's final report. We presented the case that in tandem with technology related skills are those underpinning professional content production. We argued that in the ability to create Digital Britain and to create high economic value from Digital Britain is dependent on the breadth and depth of our Digital Skills—the skills to create the infrastructure, the skills to create the world-class content, the skills to exploit technology, to innovate and deliver tangible business value.

  12.  Skillset's made recommendations to Digital Britain which are built on our current work. We have worked hard and so far managed to influence the development of new national 14—19 qualifications (Creative and Media Diploma), the creation of new vocational routes (Digital Apprenticeships and High-level Apprenticeships) and influencing high-level skills and academic provision with the creation of a network of Skillset Media Academies (Further and Higher Education institutions recognised by industry as centres of excellence) which are working with creative media business to address their needs (from recruiting employable graduates to upskilling existing workforce and develop new business models), as well as encouraging companies themselves to address and invest in these issues. We are currently developing a map of all creative media occupations which highlights their interelationship with convergence, anticipates future growth of new occupations and tracks the changes in more traditional ones.

  13.  At present, Government's skills investment is mainly focused on supporting individuals with low or no level skills. High level skills are expected to attract full investment from employers. From the sector's perspective the current recession, fragmented nature of the industry and labour market usage calls for a more flexible and differentiated approach regarding the accessibility of public funding and co-investment with the industry. Through Peter Mandelson's work on "industrial activism"[28] (which is about identifying key sectors for the future and ways in which Government can support them more effectively) the creative and digital sectors are emerging as priorities. Skillset is currently working with DIUS on its new policy of skills activism—which allows for discreet support of niche industries—and with BERR and DCMS through Digital Britain. All our inputs are recommending that Government invests in high-level creative skills in partnership with the industry.

  14.  Our main recommendation for Digital Britain is that Government needs to work with industry and look at focusing strategic investment to meet better the needs of this growing sector of the UK economy through the publicly funded education and skills provision. This will incentivise industry participation and co-funding of structured entry and progression routes and training for reskilling and upskilling. In addition, any new structural proposals and other recommendations in the Digital Britain report (ie PSB responsibilities, owneship of media rules, news consortia, contestable funding) should also have clear commitments on training and development, particularly, in this case for the local and regional media industries they will serve.

  15.  If our recommendations are implemented by Government, then we believe that we could address some of the issues expressed above and support effectively proposals for the future of local and regional media.

  16.  We hope the Committee's work on this enquiry will highlight the importance of skills development and people's issues in delivering solutions for a sustainable future for local and regional media. We will look into the Committee's work to support and recognise these issues and include training and skills development in their recommendations.


Q:   The impact on local media of recent and future developments in digital convergence, media technology and changing consumer behaviour

  17.  Skillset is researching the impact that digital convergence has on the skills and attitudes of creative media professionals. For example, the recent Scoping Project for Convergence Journalism report which was produced by the National Council for the Training of Journalists, Broadcast Journalists Training Council, Periodicals Training Council and Society of Editors (commissioned and funded by Skillset),[29] highlights skills gap among graduates in journalism, as newsrooms demand platform convergence.

  18.  Regarding the employment and education of journalists 57% of companies now operate across the web as well as their "main" area of activity—46% of television and radio companies, 59% of newspapers and 61% of magazines. 33% of companies employ more than 50 journalists, but there are more larger companies to be found in newspapers, relative to television and radio and magazines. Very few companies recruited more than ten journalists in 2007.

  19.  71% of employers report skills gaps among new entrant journalists. Television and radio companies and larger companies report skills gaps that are slightly higher than the average. Employers pinpointed several traditional and new skills gaps facing their business. For traditional skills these included finding own stories, use of language, writing, media law, shorthand and newsgathering. For new skills, the most frequently mentioned skills gaps were in video skills, writing for search optimisation and multi platforms, assembling news bulletins and audio/visual packages and using the Freedom of Information Act.

  20.  In addition, the following case study was based on feedback from one of the Skillset industry panels and it demonstrates how job roles change:

  "A year ago, our Cardiff newsroom introduced the role of Community & Interactivity editor (C&I editor). This is a journalistic role, but a brand new one in newspaper publishing terms. It involves the proactive management of relationships with our online and print audiences. Essentially, the C&I editor acts a bit like the producer of a radio phone-in show, prompting the audience with questions about topical stories and issues that we think will draw a response from our readers/users. The C&I editor will lead the discussion invite people to interact with us, to post their opinions on our forums and blogs. They will also then moderate the content and, in liaison with the multimedia hub, select and edit packages to be reproduced in print. To use the shorthand, we are transitioning from creating all of our content to curating content. Most of our newsrooms now have C&I editors, and I think it is an area that will grow."

  21.  The above is an indication of the impact of digital convergence in journalism. A similar impact (emerging importance of new skill sets and evolving job roles) has been identified in other professions within these sectors such as sales and marketing staff, tv/video crews, visual and sound editors and radio engineers (for more information, please see the Skillset updated Sector Skills Agreement 2008 - 2011 [30]) As we have mentioned before, Skillset is monitoring developments through our a map of all the creative media occupations.

  22.  It is worth stressing that the impact of digital convergence can also been seen within managerial roles across these industries. We believe that it is very important to address their skill issues to ensure that new converged media business models are adapted and that senior management are able to think beyond traditional opportunities and look at monetisation of creative content.

Q:   The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information

  23.  As we mentioned above, we believe that that the need to maintain a highly-skilled, flexible workforce is even more essential for the future of regional and local media economies at a time of recession.

  24.  Unfortunately, as described above, traditional routes into broadcast and newspapers are under threat as major cut-backs are experienced in regional programming for commercial radio and television (ie ITV) and local newspaper closures. As we mentioned, Government needs to work with industry and look into strategic investment through the publicly funded education as this will incentivise industry participation and co-funding of structured entry and progression routes and training for reskilling and upskilling. In addition, any new structural proposals and other recommendations in the Digital Britain report (ie PSB responsibilities, ownership of media rules, news consortia, contestable funding) should also have clear commitments on training and development, particularly, in this case for the local and regional media industries they will serve.

  25.  For journalism in particular, there is a need to identify options and opportunities within each community to see if journalists can be re-skilled or up-skilled for lateral career progression into other creative media sectors. Other creative media sectors should also be considered (eg content creation for interactive/digital media).

Q:   The future of local radio and television news

  26.  We would like to see people's and training and skills development built in any solution proposed regarding the future of local radio and television news, because this is an essential ingredient in a sustainable local and regional media economy. Any structural proposals and recommendations in the Digital Britain report (as for example contestable funding for local and regional news consortia) should also offer incentives to encourage industry participation in training and people's development.

Q:   The extent of plurality required in local media markets

  27.  Skillset is working across the four nations of the UK as well as throughout the English regions. Recent work in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales has higlighted the need to explore how the media offer is enhanced in terms of increased locally relevant content and as a provider of national content. Skills are essential in strengthening and stimulating creative media production in a regional and local context to address the principles of plurality, diversity and deliver high quality accessible content.

  28.  We expect the recommendations in Digital Britain to address issues of investment in local content. As new technologies develop so new opportunities emerge. If a skilled workforce is also developed in a local and regional context, then this will enable local media to seize new opportunities as they arise.

Q:   Incentives for investment in local content

  29.  As we mentioned before, Skillset submitted a comprehensive response and action plan on skills for Digital Britain's final report. Our aim was to highlight the need for skills that will support professional content production. We argued that the ability to create Digital Britain and to create high economic value from Digital Britain is dependent on the breadth and depth of our industries' skills to create the infrastructure and world-class content, to exploit technology, innovate and deliver tangible business value.

May 2009

21   Publishing as a sector became part of Skillset's footprint in April 2008. Back

22   Page.86, PSB Phase 2 Statement, Ofcom, January 2009. Back

23   Andy Burnham speech, IPPR Conference, 22nd January, 2009. Back

24   Conservatives Press Release, 27th March 2009: http://www.jeremyhunt.org/type2show.asp?id=92&ref=507 Back

25   UK CES, 23 October 2008: http://www.ukces.org.uk/Default.aspx?page=4659 Back

26   Digital Britain Interim Report, page 7, DCMS/BERR, January 2009 Back

27   Digital Britain Interim Report, page 65, DCMS/BERR, January 2009 Back

28   "[We] need to widen and diversify the specialist bases of the UK economy and focus on how we further commercialise andinternationalise these bases…", Peter Mandelson Speech, RSA, 17 December, 2008. Back

29   The report can be found on http://www.skillset.org/skillset/press/2009/article_7220_1.asp Back

30   http://www.skillset.org/strategy/strategies/ssa/ Back

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