Memorandum from the Scottish Newspaper Publishers Association
This paper has been prepared in response to an invitation by the Select Committee for views on the future for local and regional media, ahead of its new inquiry.
is submitted on behalf of the local newspaper publishing industry in
2. SNPA - the organisation
Scottish Newspaper Publishers Association (SNPA) represents
- promote, further and safeguard the interests of its members;
- maintain press freedom;
- advise members on advertising matters;
- advise members on current codes of advertising practice.
3. Critical issues facing
The Scottish local newspaper publishing industry is facing the worst media crisis in living memory. Compounding threats include:
- the economic down-turn and drastically reduced advertising revenues.
- declining circulation revenues.
- migration of advertising revenues to the internet.
- government encouragement and
sponsorship of websites geared to divert public sector recruitment advertising
away from the local press to a public sector sponsored website. Scotland
- the diversion of licensing advertising away from the local press to local authority websites.
- public sector initiatives to pass off in-house newsletters and/or other communications as editorially independent publishing ventures. Some of these are part-funded through advertising sales, encroaching into market space occupied by the commercial publishing sector.
- the threat that statutory obligations
relating to the requirement for local government to publish Public Notices
might be met in future by a centralised Public Information Notices website.
- undermining of the industry
The impact of these combined threats will inevitably encompass:
- titles being closed
- job losses : editorial, advertising, production and management
- a democratic deficit arising from the disenfranchisement of local communities.
4.1 Trust and credibility
Local newspapers are at the heart of the communities they serve; local people turn to their paper for information they can trust. UK-wide research bears out the claim that the regional press is the most trusted media channel.
(TNS) revealed that advertising in local newspapers and their websites is nearly
50% more trusted and reliable than the nearest everyday medium (58% of sample
compared with commercial television
same research confirmed that advertising in local newspaper websites is nearly
twice as trustworthy and reliable as national websites (63% of sample for local
newspapers and 53% of sample for local newspaper websites compared with other
newspapers serve the communities in which they
For a government wishing to communicate with all socio-economic groups, local newspapers deliver the most inclusivity.
live their lives locally.
- 82% of people spend half or more of their time within 5 miles of home.
- This rises to 89% for a distance of less than 10 miles.
And local newspapers play
a central role in helping them to feel part of their community.
- 32% chose the local newspaper or local newspaper website as their preferred media choice to acquire such information.
- Only 1% chose a national newspaper.
Local newspapers are well read, relied on for news not available elsewhere and help readers make the best of their local area (GFKNOP 2005):
- 90% read half or more of their local paper.
- 58% rely on their local paper for
news they can
- 52% say their paper helps them make the best of their own area.
Because people live
their lives locally, it
- 51% turn first to their local paper to find out about job vacancies.
4.4 Debate, democracy and public information
local press is the only mass medium which informs and stimulates debate about
issues affecting people and organisations in the locality.
Because the local press is trusted and reaches the overwhelming majority of the community, it represents a vital platform from which to disseminate public information messages and campaigns.
4.5 Economic prosperity
addition to its collective contribution to the economic health of the nation,
4.6 Investment and innovation
Investment by publishers into digital media development has yielded real dividends for all. These initiatives benefit from the trust and credibility inherent in the printed versions. Publishers are investing to develop the complimentary features of online and offline news ventures.
4.7 Press standards and self-regulation
5. Industry views on the Committee
In its announcement relating to the inquiry, 11 issues were identified, for which views were sought by the Committee:
5.1 The impact on local media of recent and future development in digital convergence, media technology and changing consumer behaviour.
ways in which consumers access news content have been evolving for decades. The
long-run decline in circulations of national daily, regional and weekly
newspaper titles is evidence of such change. The process has its roots in the
advent of commercial television and, later, community radio. These initiatives
helped to deliver content directly into people
the core of the newspaper business has always been the commercial imperative to
offer advertisers access to audience. Given the plethora of emerging new media opportunities,
it is unsurprising that newspapers
shift in delivery mechanism from offline to digital has seismic implications
for media owners, journalists, advertisers and, ultimately, readers. Websites
and RSS feeds abound and offer free content, yet much of this is sourced from
offline publications or is aggregated from other online resources. What
One significant way in which newspaper publishers have been rising to the challenge to the prevailing business model has been the training of journalists to work across offline and online platforms. Delivery of high quality content by trained journalists, irrespective of delivery channel, must be paid for, yet there are very few examples around the world of newspaper websites being able to operate on a commercial basis. The industry is in transition, as new solutions are being explored. The current economic crisis, with falling advertising budgets, is exacerbating the problem for publishers.
summary, advertising and circulation revenues pay for newsgathering and content
delivery. Digital convergence, the development of media technology, changing
consumer behaviour and the economic downturn are compounding to place those
revenues - and, therefore, local media such as
5.2 The impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism and access to local information.
It does not necessarily follow that a modest reduction in the number of titles will deleteriously affect local journalism and access to local information. Efficiencies introduced through consolidation of some titles, for instance, can enable newsgathering as well as journalistic standards to be maintained.
market space occupied by local papers, on the other hand, is reliant on those
5.3 How to fund quality local journalism.
weekly newspapers represent the training grounds for many
follows that the industry is urging Government at all levels not to encourage
or foster initiatives which seek to migrate advertising revenues away from
their titles. Such migration cuts at the heart of publishers
5.4 The appropriateness and effectiveness of print and electronic publishing initiatives undertaken directly by public sector bodies at the local level.
The Scottish weekly newspaper industry applauds efforts by local authorities and other local public sector bodies to communicate with their stakeholders. Moreover, the industry is confident that it can deliver unbeatable local household penetration and excellent value-for-money to assist those organisations in reaching those target audiences.
It is not appropriate, however, for local authorities to apply public funds to pass themselves off as independent publishers nor to encroach into market space occupied by the commercial publishing sector by selling space in their own offline or online publications.
Local people expect their local papers to hold public sector bodies such as councils to account. Information received by the public through a council-owned publication, therefore, will not be perceived as credible as information read in the local newspaper. It follows that public sector publishing initiatives will pass neither the test of appropriateness or effectiveness.
5.5 The role and effects of search engines and online content aggregators on local media.
Local newspapers cover local stories by deploying trained journalists at the community level. No other medium employs anywhere near the number of journalists to gather local news and write local content.
engines and websites which aggregate news content poach the material gathered
by newspaper journalists whose activity, in turn, is funded by publishers.
While intellectual property rights might not being breached, it is clear that
such activity threatens to undermine newspapers
In tackling this issue, publishers are committed to continuing to invest in their own online initiatives.
5.6 The future of local radio and television news.
Primary newsgathering is expensive and, as argued elsewhere in this submission, is paid for in terms of local newspaper publishing through advertising and circulation revenues.
For local radio and television news, the position is similar. The severe difficulties confronting STV, for example, are testament to the experience shared in common with publishers of news organisations having to come to terms with increasing costs and the rapidly expanding digital provision.
5.7 The desirability of changes to the regulatory framework for print and electronic local media, including cross-media ownership and merger regulations.
regulations on cross-media ownership and newspaper mergers are relaxed, media
owners are denied the opportunity to identify and reap the rewards of
efficiency savings engineered through appropriate consolidation. Given that
such opportunities are open to other industries,
5.8 The opportunities and implications of
implies mutual benefit. The publishers of
are significant challenges which would require to be overcome. In objecting to
proposals developed for the
5.9 The extent of plurality required in local media markets.
digital media, user-generated content, blogs, RSS feeds and news-based
websites, plurality would seem to be safe and certain. Yet, as argued elsewhere
in this submission, so much of this online content has been assembled from
offline sources or aggregated from other (newspapers and others
It is, therefore, vital that local newspapers remain a key news component within the communities they serve. This is the only medium which trains and employs journalists to cover stories at the local level. Any damage inflicted on the local newspaper publishing business would seriously undermine local media plurality, thereby jeopardising local democratic accountability.
5.10 Incentives for investment in local content.
Any intervention, made on behalf of another media sector such as a public service broadcaster or a public sector body such as a council would cause publishers serious concern, as it would be viewed as a deliberate move to create an unlevel playing field.
Conversely, publishers regard the public sector-sponsored migration of recruitment advertising away from their titles as a disincentive for investment in local content.
5.11 Opportunities for "ultra-local" media services.
authors of the
The journalists employed by these papers cover local council and committee meetings, the courts, schools, businesses, housing and a myriad of truly "ultra-local" stories.
The stories are researched, written, published (offline and online) and read within the communities being served. The medium delivers excellent value to the advertisers who ultimately fund the majority of the costs associated with newsgathering. The industry believes that any new entrant to newsgathering at such a local level should compete on equal terms with existing providers and should not expect to receive any financial or other subsidy.
6. What is being asked of Government
The Scottish local newspaper industry is not seeking direct financial assistance from the Government.
It is convinced, however, that irreversible damage will be the consequence of allowing or, worse, facilitating revenues to be diverted away from what should be acknowledged as a valuable component of the Scottish economy and democratic process.
Publishers would ask members of the Select Committee:
- to acknowledge the many contributions made to Scottish life by its local newspaper publishers.
- to recognise the severity of the
- to do what it can to discourage the UK or Scottish Governments from legislating to allow local authorities to divert public information notice advertising away from local newspapers.
- to help safeguard the level playing
field for media in
- to condemn public sector publishing initiatives which seek to pass themselves off as independent and/or encroach into the commercial sector.