The Future

for Local and

Regional Media

Submission to the

Culture Media and Sport

Select Committee Inquiry

May 2009

The NUJ represents 38,000 journalists working in all

sectors of the media.

We have very serious concerns about the future of

local media and believe that government action is

required to ensure it thrives the future. This submission

gives extensive evidence about the cutbacks in

local journalism and how they are impacting on the

ability of our members to do their jobs effectively. It

includes first-hand reports from journalists dealing with

cutbacks as well as concrete examples of how communities

are losing out on quality local news.

The concerns highlighted here are shared by our

members across the industry, as well as by leading

journalism commentators and academics.

The NUJ believes public assistance is valid and necessary

to support journalism not to prop up a failing

business model. Assistance is necessary in certain circumstances

to help the industry move towards a more

public service oriented industry with a range of ownership

and business models and a diversity and plurality

of voices. We do not believe unconditional assistance

should be provided to an industry which is operating

on a business model that is unsustainable.

Media ownership rules

Cross-media ownership rules should be reformed to

take in to account the increasingly multimedia nature

of many newsrooms and media organisations.

However, such a move does not negate the need for

enforceable regulation of media ownership which is

crucial to maintaining the diversity of voices and plurality

of media at a local and national level which is

vital to the democratic process and providing competition

in local news markets.

There should be a stronger public interest test, including

a specific requirement to establish whether a

merger will impact adversely on newsgathering - a

position advocated by the House of Lords

Communications Committee.

We do not believe newspaper media ownership regulations

should be relaxed to allow greater concentration

of local and regional newspaper ownership.

Consolidation of newspaper groups has been a major

factor in reducing resources for newsgathering.

Further consolidation would accelerate the trend

which saw Newsquest, for example, cut 2000 jobs in

three years.

Maintaining and improving plurality should be a key

priority for any action to support the local media.

We also have a number of concerns about the impact

on plurality of proposals for the BBC to share

resources with ITV, or possibly other organisations in

the future.

Future funding models

We are opposed to the use of licence fee funding to

support commercial media organisations. New funding

sources must be found. We believe that the use of

regulatory assets such as spectrum should be maximised

to support public service broadcasters and

levies and tax breaks considered as alternative methods

of raising revenues.

We believe that ITV continues to be best placed to

offer a commercial alternative to the BBC. However,

we would support the idea of a Scottish pilot of the

independent news consortia idea, as recently outlined

by Ofcom. Any such moves would need to take

account of existing ITV/STV/UTV employees' employment


Taking a broader view of the local media, a variety of

incentives to invest in quality journalism could be

developed, including:

l Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined

public purposes

l Giving individuals annual tax credits for their spend

on daily newspapers which meet criteria around original


l Eliminate postal rates for current affairs/news periodicals

that garner less than 20% of their revenue

from advertising

l Provide tax credits for online subscriptions

l An expansion of funding for public and community

broadcasting at a local level with a requirement that

the majority of the funds are used directly for original


l The strategic use of central and local government


We believe that the way in which content aggregators,

such as Google, who do not pay for the content on

which they make money, needs to be examined.

An assessment should also be made of how central

and local government, plus regional development

authorities and other bodies, could support the startup

of new local media organisations.

Other issues

We believe that there is a role for local authority publications,

particularly where public interest objectives

cannot be effectively met through existing media. We

also believe that action should be taken by the government

to support journalistic training, with a particular

focus on improving access to the profession for

people from socio-economic groups that are currently


In addition to this submission, the NUJ requests that it

be invited to give oral evidence to the committee on

this important inquiry.


We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence

on behalf of 38,000 members working in all sectors

of the media to this vital and timely inquiry.

Central to the NUJ's submission is the need to support

quality journalism in the public interest. There can be

great debate about platforms, business models, regulations

and technologies but central to this debate

must be the need to maintain and grow the availability

of quality journalism across a range of providers.

The impact on local media of recent and

future developments in digital convergence,

media technology and changing consumer


It is often said not much happens in Milton Keynes

which is just as well because as the NUJ's workplace

representative said, if it did, they would not have the

staff to cover it.

"With fewer staff...there is simply too much to do.

Trips out of the office are a rarity. Most of the

team...are resigned to the fact that their job is to sit

obediently and churn, churn, churn. One of the most

gut-wrenching things is that there's no time to train the

trainees, so they think this is what journalists do - sit

at desks, sifting through press releases, making hurried

phone calls, churning out, making do".

Karen Jeffrey, former Features Editor,

Milton Keynes Citizen

Since Karen wrote that in 2008 the situation facing

local media has got worse. ITV have cut almost 1000

jobs, ITV local and regional news has suffered substantial

cuts - in some cases output has been halved -

hundreds of editorial jobs have been cut at the BBC

and thousands lost across regional and local newspapers.

In the past 12 months alone the NUJ has documented

more than 1500 job losses in newspapers, including

Manchester, Norwich, Bolton, Leicester, Derby,

Reading, Cambridge, Northampton, Belfast,

Bournemouth, York, Glasgow, London, Newcastle,

Liverpool and in virtually every town and city in the


There is without doubt a crisis in local media - but the

explanations of many media owners for the state they

find themselves in today are too simplistic and seek to

divert attention from the failure of the business model

which is killing journalism at a local level.

In the 1980s and 1990s - an era of massive media

profits and a loosening of media ownership laws - we

saw enormous consolidation of media companies,

increasing profitability and increased rewards for

shareholders until a high point around 2005.

"Shareholders are always our top priority.

The 29%dividend increase in July brought to $1.60

our annualized rate of return per share. It was the

39th increase since Gannett became a public

company.... We remain committed to returning

more value to shareholders."

Craig A.Dubow, Gannett Chairman, President and Chief

Executive Officer, in the Gannett 2007 Annual Report.

Gannett own Newsquest one of the UK's largest regional

newspaper publishers.

From then on changing public consumption habits

started to affect the profitability of companies. No

longer could they achieve 30-40% profit ratios as

many local media companies had for many years.

Instead of adjusting their business model or accepting

lower levels of profitability they borrowed money to

fuel further consolidation, set about implementing further

job cuts in largely non-editorial areas in order to

maintain profit levels far in excess of that achieved in

most UK industries. As the change in consumer habits

accelerated the failure to invest huge profits in quality

new media content was cruelly exposed as companies

rushed to try to compete with new players who failed

to provide news but were taking advertising.

Companies such as Newsquest, one of the largest

regional newspaper publishers, owned by US media

giant Gannett, largely fuelled its move to new media

by asking staff to volunteer for extra hours or as Press

Gazette reported "the online challenge is being met by

forcing already over-worked trainees to work evenings

and weekends for no extra cash".

Despite the claims by media organisations to have

invested in a transition to web operations, an NUJ survey,

conducted in 2007, showed that 65.6% of workplaces

had recruited no additional staff to work on the

company's web operations and that 64.3% believed


Trinity Mirror's latest annual report shows that profits

for 2008 were £145.2m, of which the regionals

division contributed £68.2m. The operating profit

margin total for all business operations was 16.66%.

Shareholders received a dividend payout of 3.2p per

share. Chief Executive Sly Bailey received more

than £1,000,000 in salary and pension contributions

- the equivalent of around 50 journalists. The company

has recently closed its Liverpool print site

which "has significantly reduced investment

requirements going forward and also frees up a

prime city centre property for disposal by the end of

2009". Sly Bailey says she believes the company

will be profitable in 2009 and 2010 and beyond.

Between 1999 and 2007 editorial and production

staff were cut by 31%. As a result 84% of staff

believe their workload has increased.

existing staff workloads had increased as a result of

the transition to online publishing. This inevitably

raised fears about the quality of the work being produced

and the ability to be able to cover such a broad

range of stories in as much depth.

In March this year, the Press Complaints Commission

identified a decline in the standard of online journalism

and expressed concerns about the impact of cutbacks

on accuracy. The outgoing chairman Sir Christopher

Meyer said: "We've noticed some wobble in standards

in areas of online reporting where it's clear the pressures

of time and the 24-hour news cycle may have

lead people to put up stories which haven't been thoroughly


The onset of recession, coupled with massive debt

(Johnston Press is saddled with net debts of around

£477m) and the continuing structural changes affecting

the industry have hit media companies hard.

Channel 3 companies claim their public service obligations,

despite the fact they have been severely

reduced in the past two years, now cost more than the

value of their licence.

Mired in debt and facing falling profits, the managers

of corporate media firms seek to right the sinking ship

by cutting costs, leading remaining readers, viewers,

listeners to ask why they are bothering to pay for publications

that are pale shadows of themselves.

The media industry is fundamentally profitable but the

business model is killing quality journalism. (Appendix A

sets out the profits and financial rewards reaped by current

media owners).

The recession or the internet did not cause the crisis

in journalism. The economic situation and internet

have greatly accentuated and accelerated a process

that can be traced back to the 1970s, when corporate

ownership and consolidation of newspapers took off. It

was then that new corporate owners started demanding

bigger returns and managers, to satisfy such

demands, responded by cutting journalists and undermining


Like other critics, Williams rightly points to the

fact that the conglomerates were failing well

before the arrival of the recession. The underlying

problems of local newspapers will not be solved

by the further underwriting of publishers who

were responsible for those failings.

Roy Greenslade


The NUJ believes public assistance is valid and necessary

to support journalism not to prop up a failing

business model. Assistance is necessary in certain circumstances

to help the industry move towards a more

public service oriented industry with a range of ownership

and business models and a diversity and plurality

of voices. We do not believe unconditional assistance

should be provided to an industry which is operating

on a business model that is unsustainable.

We should be careful before rushing to provide any

public assistance to those who helped bring about the

crisis they are facing. It is them who paid too much for

titles to fuel consolidation. It is them who cut journalists

- thereby helping accelerate a decline in viewers,

listeners and readers. It is they who failed to reinvest

the billions of pounds which have been handed to

shareholders across the world and which are lost to

Roy Greenslade:

On decisions by the leaders of the big regional

press companies:

But, overall, they performed just as they were

obliged by the ruthless logic of an economic

system that demands ever-increasing profits.

To do that, they kept a close eye on "costs",

ensuring that the staffing of mechanical jobs

involved in newspaper production were pared

to the bone. There was little fat to cut by the

time, about five years or so ago, that revenue

began to fall away, as the rivers of gold (aka

classified ads) flowed towards internet sites

the papers did not own. Yet the insistent

demands of the market meant that profits must

be maintained.

So who could be cut next? The answer, sadly,

was journalists. I ought to say right away that

not all journalists were productive. There probably

was a need for greater efficiency.

But the net result of the cuts was a diminution

of journalism, a gradual and inexorable move

away from the kind of coverage that informed

the admittedly declining audiences about what

was happening in their towns and cities. I am

not exaggerating. Several editors and at least

one very highly-placed executive - all of whom

wish to remain anonymous - have told me that

the routine reporting of courts and councils

have been in decline for a least a decade.

All of them also blame the nature of corporate

newspaper ownership. Gone were the owners

and executives who really cared about what

their newspapers published.

Evening Standard, 1 April 2009



local economies. It is they who decided to give away

expensive online content for free in order to try to

secure a larger market share.

Decisions about the future should be taken on the

basis of the whole business cycle not just its low point.

Public assistance should consider the interests of local

communities not just the media companies. Public

assistance should be conditional. Conditions should

seek to ensure assistance directly benefits local journalism

rather than shareholders.

The impact of newspaper closures on

independent local journalism and access

to local information

Around 60 local newspapers have closed in the past

twelve months. The Long Eaton Advertiser, owned by

Trinity Mirror (profits last year £145.2m) was closed

not because the people of Long Eaton don't want

news about their community, but because of "difficult

trading conditions".

The Long Eaton Advertiser was a victim of the current

business model for local news. Trinity Mirror cut back

on staff. Fewer reporters were required to do more

work. Stories went uncovered. Support for the paper

fell as a result. Printing was transferred to Tamworth.

The paper began to lose its identity. It moved its office

out of the town. A cycle of decline fed off itself.

In these circumstances companies should be forced to

divest of the title and allow the local community to put

together a consortium - an independent trust - involving

the staff, local business, community organisations,

the local authority to take over running the title.

The problem with most local newspapers - in both

their print and web forms - is the lack of unique,

meaningful content. Readers are deserting the

local press in their tens of thousands because the

decline in the service being offered has become

an unstoppable descent: circulations and revenues

fall while online growth stalls so quality is

cut leading to further sales and revenue falls

leading to further cutbacks.

Justin Williams, assistant editor with the Telegraph

group on his personal blog:

But The Long Eaton Advertiser is for now rare. It is not

so much newspaper closures -- but the gutting of

newspapers editorial staff which is having the biggest

impact on local journalism and citizens' access to

information and which unless it is reversed will lead to

more closures.

Around 20-25% of staff have been cut from local

newspapers in the last twelve months. Northcliffe

recently announced 1000 job cuts, Trinity Mirror 1200.

Roy Greenslade has noted that "the public are already

losing out: important court cases are not being covered,

councils are not being held to account, journalists

are spending their days rewriting PR material".

Paul Potts, chief executive of the Press Association,

said recently that judges had been complaining to him

that "important trials were going unreported because

newspapers have cut back on their number of journalists".

Cardiff University produced a report in 2008 which

included a study of how PR-originated material often

wins greater mainstream coverage than more newsworthy

original stories. The research concluded that

the study "suggests not only that dependence on PR

is shaping news values, but that it is keeping more

newsworthy material out of the news." This is a direct

result of the reductions in the numbers of journalists

and newsgatherers.

Statistics provided by Cardiff University as part of an

earlier report show that 92% of local media journalists

surveyed claim they now use more PR copy in stories

than they used to and 80% said they use the wires

more often.

In his book Flat Earth News, Nick Davies analyses the

work of local newspaper reporters. In one typical

example he surveys a journalist who does 48 stories

in a week, speaks to 26 people, sees only 4 face to

face and only spends 3 out of 45.5 hours outside the


As Nick Davies says: "This is churnalism"

Our own surveys of members have shown a decline in

the numbers of journalists regularly covering court or

local councils, with some members reporting that even

in major cities a journalist only attends the local council

for the most important debates. The number of specialist

political correspondents has declined. There are

now fewer specialist crime, court, health and education

correspondents working in local newspapers.

Sheffield Newspapers now has just nine news

reporters, compared to around 30 ten years ago.

A journalist in Birmingham reported: "There is

increased use of Press Association copy, even for

local events (which was unheard of a couple of years

ago). There is now copying/rewriting from national

newspapers/radio/TV and fewer original investigations.

There is less checking of facts, we just take everything

at face value."

Five day a week titles such as the Reading (Evening)

Post are now to be published twice-weekly. Fewer editions

mean late or breaking news will be lost or

localised content is cut. Hundreds of pages of editorial

coverage have been lost every week. Job cuts among

specialists mean there will be a loss of expertise. For

example the papers in Newcastle lost their Rugby correspondent,

in Gloucester they lost their health correspondent,

in Liverpool their Parliamentary correspondent.

The story is the same across large parts of the

newspaper industry.

Birmingham Post and Mail, plus associated titles

l16 offices ten years ago, down to four today

l Around 230 journalists five years ago, today it's

about 160.

l Seven courts/crime specialists and nine business

specialists ten years ago, today just three and six


l The following specialists have all now been lost:

transport, home affairs, showbiz correspondent, industrial

correspondent, community affairs editor, cricket

correspondent, non-league football correspondent and

three chief reporters.

At many centres, news desks, sub-editors and journalists

are being moved to centralised locations, often

dozens of miles away from the communities served by

the titles. It means the people making key decisions

about what to cover and how to report it are being

taken by people who may have very limited knowledge

of the local area.

All this damages the ability of papers and websites to

bring the social benefits of a vibrant media to their

local communities.

It is not just newspapers but public service journalism

which is under threat.

Budget cuts at ITV, job cuts at the BBC, financial

pressures on ITN's news budget are all having an


Under the new set-up, ITV has no bureau in Dorset.

The whole county is covered by one correspondent

working from home. Similarly, there is no bureau in

Wiltshire, with the whole county being covered by one

reporter working from home.

The cutbacks across the West/Westcountry region

illustrate changes taking place across the ITV networks.

Regions that were, to much fanfare, divided up

into separate more local programmes, were a short

period later axed, returning to large regions. Viewers

in the Border region now get their news from


In local radio news hubs have severely reduced the

numbers of journalists covering local areas. For example,

until a recent reorganisation, listeners to 2BR in

Burnley were served by three local journalists, Silk FM

in Macclesfield had two journalists, Dune FM

employed two local journalists and Dee 106 in Chester

had one journalist based in the town. Now all listeners

to these stations get their 'local' news from a hub in

Pete Lazenby, union

representative, Yorkshire Post:

Johnston Press is the newspaper equivalent of

HBOS and Northern Rock. The company's debts

are now ten times the size of its share value.

This situation exists because management handed

out hundreds of millions of pounds in bonuses

and dividends to directors and shareholders while

at the same time borrowing hundreds of millions

of pounds for an over-ambitious acquisition programme.

Its chief executive Tim Bowdler pocketed millions

in bonuses, pay and pension despite overseeing

this appalling financial situation.

The company is now demanding that we pay for

its mismanagement with our jobs.

The ballot result is indicative of the strength of

feeling at our papers. We hope it sends a message

to management. We hope it will also encourage

other Johnston Press offices to take action.

But this isn't just about jobs. It is about the quality

of our newspapers. Standards are falling

because of continual cuts in budgets and staffing

levels. Our papers are suffering a spiral of falling

circulations, more cuts, more lost readers.

We are proud of our papers - some of us have

worked for our publications for decades, serving

our communities and spearheading campaigns.

We are appealing to our readers for support.

Case study: impact of ITV's cutbacks on newsgathering in its merged

West/Westcountry region

Facilities before regions were merged Impact of the merger

Plymouth - main site Shut - replaced with small bureau staffed by 1 correspondent, 2 reporters

Penzance bureau Shut

Weymouth bureau Shut

Barnstaple bureau Shut - replaced by 1 reporter working from home

Taunton bureau Shut - replaced by 1 correspondent, 1 reporter working from home

Gloucester bureau Shut - replaced by 1 correspondent working from home

Exeter bureau Remains - staffing cut to 1 correspondent, 1 reporter

Truro bureau Remains - staffing cut to 1 correspondent, 1 reporter

Burnley which employs just four journalists, half the

original level of staffing. Three of the four stations now

get their local news from a centre at least an hour's

drive away from the towns they serve.

The centralisation of news into these hubs not only

removes journalists many miles from the communities

they serve but, as this sector is one with a traditionally

high turnover, it means that in many cases, local news

could be produced by people who have never visited

the towns they serve.

The desirability of changes to the

regulatory framework for print and

electronic local media, including crossmedia

ownership and merger regulations

Between 1995 and 2007 £7.3bn was spent on mergers

and acquisitions of newspapers. In 1996, ownership

of one-third of all regional newspapers changed

hands. In the last six months of 2005, Johnston Press

spent more than £500m buying local papers. As a

result of all this activity there has been a marked consolidation

of newspaper ownership - from 200 companies

in 1992 to 87 by 2005 (of which 38 owned just a

single newspaper). Today there are just four companies

who control over 70% of the market. In commercial radio just four companies have an

almost 80% share of the market.

The case for such consolidation was then, as now,

that it would offer the prospect of substantial

economies of scale and cost efficient operation.

Instead the impact of consolidation on local newspapers

and local radio has been a narrowing of the

range and diversity of editorial voices and massive job

cuts, sometimes driven by creating regional

hubs/newsrooms, subbing pools covering a number of


As the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting

Freedom submission to the OFT states: "Centralising

production in regional hubs also leads to the closure

of local offices and removes journalists from their

communities, further undermining what should be the

unique selling point of a local paper - genuine local


The NUJ believes that:

l Cross-media ownership rules should be reformed to

take in to account the increasingly multimedia nature

of many newsrooms and media organisations.

l However, such a move does not negate the need

for enforceable regulation of media ownership which is

crucial to maintaining the diver sity of voices and plurality

of media at a local and national level which is

vital to the democratic process and providing competition

in local news markets.

l There should be a stronger public interest test,

Chris Bullivant's OFT submission:

Their zeal for mergers is no secret...but they have

hidden their true motives behind a spurious argument

that the current rules negates their ability to

turn the threat of digital media to their print businesses

into an opportunity. Newspaper publishers

had, and indeed in many ways, still have the

ability to be the number one choice for the public

on the web. They have just not gone about it very

well, as evidenced by the Fish4 failure.

And backed it with the implicit threat that there

will be hundreds of closures and thousands of

job losses unless they are allowed to consolidate

their position. The reality is that all of these large

groups built themselves on a sea of debt which

has become unrepayable... Their answer to their

impatient backers is: "Don't worry - we'll get the

government to change the rules so that the four

of us can carve the market up profitably again.

Those that want to get out, get out clean, those

who remain clean up the marketplace."

Is it really the job of the government in a free

market to allow the creation of even greater

monopolies to save these companies from their

own bad business judgement?

Coventry Newspapers

Five years ago the company had offices in

Coventry, Nuneaton, Rugby, Leamington,

Hinckley and Bedworth. Today only the Coventry

and Hinckley offices remain.

The company, which employed around 90 journalists

ten years ago, now has less than half that

number on its books - around 40. Many of these

cutbacks have been in production roles, with

large parts of editorial work now done at Trinity

Mirror's news factory at Fort Dunlop in

Birmingham. This means papers and websites are

being produced miles away from their target audiences.

However, newsgathering has also been hit. The

last ten years has seen the following decline in

journalists: from eight photographers to four

(50%); from six sports journalists to four (33%);

from 16 news reporters to 11 (31%).

What does this mean? One member commented:

We don't do fire calls before the night shift goes

off any more. That means we don't talk to the

people who actually dealt with the night incidents.

We only have one reporter in on Saturdays

now. We used to have four.

We only have four photographers. We used to

have eight.

We don't have someone routinely in both courts


We have the city divided into reporting patches

but we don't have enough general reporters to

including a specific requirement to establish whether a

merger will impact adversely on newsgathering - a

position advocated by the House of Lords

Communications Committee.

l We do not believe newspaper media ownership regulations

should be relaxed to allow greater concentration

of local and regional newspaper ownership.

Consolidation of newspaper groups has been a major

factor in reducing resources for newsgathering.

Further consolidation would accelerate the trend

which saw Newsquest, for example, cut 2000 jobs in

three years. Newspaper publisher Chris Bullivant said

in his evidence to the OFT review of media mergers:

"If merger and consolidation is allowed in to two big

groups, they will have an even greater stranglehold on

the marketplace...and the ability to charge advertisers

what they like and dish up whatever quality of journalism

to readers they feel is adequate".

Ownership of the media should be considered separately

from ownership of other assets.

In 2001 the Government published a consultation

paper on media ownership which stated that "a

healthy democracy depends on the culture of dissent

and argument, which would inevitably be diminished if

there were only a limited number of providers of

news". The previous Conservative Government said:

"A free and diverse media are an indispensable part of

the democratic process..."

The Competition Commission in its evidence to the

House of Lords Committee on Communications's consideration

of Ownership of the News (URL) stated:

"Media mergers in particular may raise plurality concerns

because they might concentrate newspaper and

other media ownership in too few hands, to the detriment

of the quality of journalism and broadcasting".

The Committee's report concludes that: "We do not

accept that the increase of news sources invalidates

the case for special treatment of the media through

ownership regulation. We believe that there is still a

danger that if media ownership becomes too concentrated

the diversity of voices available could be diminished".

Media companies argue they have internal safeguards

to protect against any detrimental impact of consolidation

of ownership. We disagree. The House of Lords

Committee which concluded: "We do not believe that

an internal company structure can be an adequate

substitute for competition law and statutory regulation

in ensuring that no single voice becomes too powerful.

We are clear that regulation to ensure plurality of

media ownership is still relevant and necessary".

It continues: "Neither the public interest considerations

for newspaper mergers nor those for broadcasting and

cross-media mergers include any requirement to

establish that a merger will not adversely affect professional

newsgathering and investigative journalism.

This is a significant omission given the evidence which

showed that it is the expensive job of news gathering

that is suffering the most...there is no evidence that

the economies of scale that consolidation brings necessarily

lead to investment in news gathering". Indeed

the contrary is the case.

The report recommends not only strengthening the

public interest considerations but "that the public interest

considerations for newspaper mergers and broadcasting

and cross-media mergers are amended to

refer specifically to a need to establish whether a

merger will impact adversely on news gathering".

Dominic Ponsford, Editor, Press


I'm deeply suspicious of the big regional newspaper

players' calls to do away with regulation.

Former Johnston Press chairman Roger Parry

told me last month that there was no case in editorial

terms for saying that regional press mergers

will harm plurality of coverage.

He said: "Every piece of evidence demonstrates

that local editors remain locally autonomous."

Yet just the next day it emerged that the longserving

group editors of his company's

Eastbourne and Hastings-based local newspaper

groups had both been sacked to be replaced by a

group managing director from another part of the


The fear that the big regional newspaper groups

aren't the best custodians of local journalism

comes from the fact that even in the boom years

they cut editorial costs to the bone in pursuit of

ever higher profit margins of 30 per cent plus.

Many believe that private owners who are more

committed to journalism and their local communities

- and who are willing to invest while taking

out sustainable profits - would be a better bet.

It may be that it takes companies with the clout of

Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press to make the

investment needed to create new multimedia

newsrooms - as they are doing in places like

Birmingham and Preston.

But I hope that Burnham and the Office of Fair

Trading ensure they protect smaller independent

local news players when they reform press merger

and competition rules.

The big regional newspaper groups are used to

playing hardball when it comes to competition -

and it would be a tragedy if they were allowed to

squash the many new local news start-ups which

are bound to follow as a result of their current

retreat from many communities.



"Consolidation has been bad for diversity and


Darius Walker, New York bureau chief CNN

Both Ofcom and Ministers should have the right to

trigger and initiate such a public interest test - seeking

evidence from industry unions as well as employers

about the likely impact.

Any amendment to the media merger regime should

have the public interest as a primary consideration

with the ability to put enforceable conditions in respect

of investment in newsgathering and the production of

original journalism on any merger.

In the case of companies such as Guardian Media

Group in Greater Manchester their ownership of

dozens of titles in a regional monopoly has resulted in

them closing a number of offices in local communities

and centralising all staff in their Manchester head

office. MPs and others have complained at the impact

that will have on newsgathering. The same company

has closed offices in Esher and Aldershot, transferring

those journalists whose jobs haven't been cut to


Add to that list dozens of other companies busy centralising

production and newsgathering and you have

a vision of what will happen on a greater scale with

further consolidation.

The Bury Times, which has been based in the town for

more than 150 years has now been predominantly

moved to Bolton, with just one journalist left in the

town on a rota basis. Just weeks after this change

was announced, it was decided to move production of

the paper even further away to Blackburn.

In Macclesfield the newspaper now comes from

Manchester and the local radio from Burnley.

Newsquest's Malvern Gazette has been moved from

Malvern town centre to be produced in Worcester. The

Burton Mail has closed three weekly offices and production

of Northcliffe's Tamworth Herald is now done

in Stoke, a move that came at the same time as cuts

in reporters and a slashing of the company's Stokebased

photographers by a third.

Swaffham in Norfolk is losing the office of its local

paper under plans that would see a reporter occasionally

setting up shop in the local café. These plans fail

to recognise the value of having journalists in the town

- so they're there when news breaks and have the

contacts to really know what's going on.

The same group, Archant, has closed offices in

Halesworth, Stowmarket, Harleston and Woodbridge.

This isn't about saving the cost of remote offices, it is

about cutting back on journalists - the latter two of

these 'offices' consisted of journalists working from

home. It means all content covering these areas is

now produced from Ipswich.

In South Wales Trinity Mirror has closed its offices in

Aberdare, Ebbw Vale and Neath. It has suggested that

reporters could occasionally visit the town and base

themselves in the premises of other organisations, but

to date even this proposal has yet to be enacted, so

the towns have to be covered from elsewhere.

One impact of consolidation has been creating regional

clusters and moving print of newspapers from local

sites to larger regional operations. The consequence

of this according to the Campaign for Press and

Broadcasting Freedom "for newspaper deadlines is

that evening papers like the Yorkshire Evening Post

are prepared for publication the day before with only a

few last minute changes possible".

Andrew Grant Adamson, journalism academic:

The failed approach to business which got them

into this mess well before more recent financial

Professor Roy Greenslade

They are compelled to do whatever is possible to

generate profits, even if it means reducing competition

and instituting cuts that reduce the quantity

and quality of their papers.

For journalists - and, most importantly, for the

public - this could be disastrous. It does threaten

democracy. Information will not reach the people.

Local power will not be held to account.

The paradox is that this is the very argument

advanced by publishers as they lobby government.

There is a black irony in watching them

close papers and cutting editorial staffs to the

bone at their existing titles while shedding tears

for "the public."

Why should we believe that a merger between,

say, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press will solve

the problem. It would allow a reduction in printing

plants. There may well be further economies of

scale. It may well, for a time at least, boost profits

and help to reverse the stock price decline.

But it is very doubtful if it will sort out the colossal

debts and the problems of funding pension

schemes. It will most certainly not lead to the rehiring

of journalists. It will not improve the public

service element of papers.

Are we to believe that larger companies formed

for the express purpose of making profits will

invest more in journalism? That they will suddenly

say to editors, hire more people, get them out

into the streets, into the courts and into council



problems, was based on mergers and acquisitions.

Corporate mergers seldom benefit customers,

staff or shareholders: often the people

with most to gain are the lawyers, accountants

and investment bankers who can make the deal

look pretty on paper... The best hope for the future

here is more diverse ownership of local papers.

Such moves have only been possible because of control

of the local newspaper market. Allowing further

consolidation will do nothing to address the problem. It

will only make things worse.

The view of one NUJ member in Yorkshire, who has

worked in local newspapers for the last 20 years,

throughout many restructures and takeovers: "It is

essential that further mergers are not allowed: they

are the reason present owners have arrived at this situation

and do not serve either readers or advertisers,

creating an effective local monopoly, with diminution of

editorial quality and high advertising costs to satisfy

shareholder demand for ever-increasing profits."

In the East Midlands Northcliffe, which campaigns

under the heading 'at the heart of all things local', has

moved production of its Derby and Leicester papers to

Nottingham, meaning people making some key editorial

decisions are no longer based in the towns.

Justin Williams, assistant editor with the Telegraph

group on his personal blog talks about the result of

consolidation at his former employer Kent Messenger


The result? Agiant in regional publishing has been

enfeebled - its circulations decimated, its multi-million

pound press plant to be closed and printing outsourced,

its website confused and filled with the dirge that plasters

its printed pages and, tragically, the laying off of

nearly 40% of its workforce. Major population centres

like Canterbury are now "served" by a handful of young

journalists on distant industrial estates while city centre

sites, earmarked for housing development, lie windblown,

empty and credit crunched".

The extent of plurality required in local

media markets

We have already highlighted why plurality of news

providers is important. Any action to support local

media, should include consideration of how it can

encourage a variety of voices.

Plurality should be maximised through a combination

of different models - commercial ownership, public

ownership, mutual ownership, staff ownership, cooperative

ownership, for profit and not-for-profit ownership.

Regional Development Agencies could be charged

with investigating how they can help promote greater

media plurality through investment incentives in local

areas poorly served by competing media. Start-up

grants, subsidised technology or training grants, subsidised

office space and other creative solutions could

help to grow new media driven by journalists themselves

on a variety of platforms - online radio, broadband

TV, print and online.

Independent Trusts should be established or endowments

for journalism introduced - which could help

fund local journalists to carry out investigations which

otherwise would not be funded and could then be published

in a variety of outlets including local newspapers

and new publishing ventures.

All support for such initiatives should be driven by the

concept of news as a public good - that it has broad

social benefits

How to fund quality local journalism

A number of different funding models have been suggested

for the broadcasting, print and online sectors.

We would be opposed to the principle that any move

towards Local News Consortia should be funded from

any element of the licence fee. Such a process does

nothing to increase the resources available to public

service providers and would weaken the BBC at the

expense of other providers. We have previously characterised

such an approach as robbing Peter to pay

Paul. Any new funding model should have as a key

requirement to increase the total level of resources


This means in broadcasting terms the better use of

regulatory assets such as:

l access to digital terrestrial spectrum, especially in

respect of greater provision of HD services

l expanding the capacity of digital terrestrial spectrum


l increasing advertising minutage allowances

l Electronic Programme Guide prominence - estimated

to be worth £30m

l reserved use of cleared spectrum for PSB purposes

It also means serious consideration must be given to

levies as an option. Despite being one of Ofcom's four

possible funding mechanisms no serious modelling

has been done by Ofcom or the Government on this


Alongside our sister union Bectu and IPPR we have

undertaken research in to the possibilities of levies

helping to bridge a funding gap. Our full report, Mind

the Funding Gap, can be found at

Levies are used in 30 European countries and are

popular with the public as a means of providing publicly

important services. A one per cent levy on pay TV

operators such as Sky and Virgin Media could bring in

around £70 million a year. A similar fee imposed on

the country's five major mobile operators could generate

£208 million a year. Making Google meet its full

tax liability in Britain would boost the pot by a further

£100 million.

Such sums could save many local newspapers and

websites from closing down, could stop the destruction

of local and regional news on ITV and could help

new media start ups to plug the gaping holes in public

service provision - all without the taxpayer having to

stump up any more cash and without having to raid

the licence fee.

In her evidence to the House of Lords Select

Committee on Communications in April 2009 Dr

Carole Tongue, former MEP and Chair of the UK

Coalition for Cultural Diversity called for consideration

of either a levy under which all non-public service

broadcasters, including video-on-demand operators,

should be asked to contribute towards the production

of public service original content or an industrial levy

under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

In addition to investigating the role a levy could play,

greater use of tax breaks should also be considered.

Tax credits could be given to those companies, across

any platform, against clear criteria of delivering public

purposes, providing public service content of a certain

quality. Such credits would reduce costs and enable

greater investment.

Incentives for investment in local content

If we are to save, build and sustain local journalism an

immediate journalism economic stimulus package

is needed.

There are those who argue any public subsidy for

journalism would undermine media freedom. Such

arguments hold no weight. Our founders never

thought that freedom of the press would only belong

to those who could afford a press. They would have

been horrified at the idea that if rich people determine

there is not sufficient commercial value in news that

communities should be deprived of quality information

and quality journalism.

There has long been public subsidy for media - tax

breaks, special postage rates, exemptions from VAT

and so on. Several European governments are experimenting

with ways to support news gathering. In

France the government has launched a programme

where every French citizen on their 18th birthday will

be given a year's free subscription to a newspaper of

their choice, with the hope it both stimulates newspaper

readership and encourages newspapers to

improve to win a share of this lucrative market. In

Sweden the government set up an independent body

to allocate subsidies to newspapers on the basis of

circulation and revenue data.

The question then is what type of assistance could be

given. Among the many options are:

l Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined

public purposes

l Giving individuals annual tax credits for their spend

on daily newspapers which meet criteria around original


l Eliminate postal rates for current affairs/news periodicals

that garner less than 20% of their revenue

from advertising

l Provide tax credits for online subscriptions

l An expansion of funding for public and community

broadcasting at a local level with a requirement that

the majority of the funds are used directly for original


l The strategic use of central and local government


All recipients of major public subsidy would be

required to make available content free online to help

build a more engaged and informed citizenry.

Such a stimulus package could help sustain a vibrant

press, it could help stimulate new media and help

save the jobs/provide work for hundreds of journalists

losing their jobs, saving their skills and experience

and preventing their unemployment adding to the calls

on the public purse through benefits.

To ensure that any public money is used for the public

good - or any relaxation of regulation is for the benefit

of our communities not private businesses and shareholders

- clear and enforceable conditions, accompanied

by sanctions, need to be applied to any government


Case study: Camden New Journal

The success of the Camden New Journal shows

that it is possible to set up independent profitable

local media. The free paper developed out of a

paid-for Camden Journal that was closed by its

owners in the early 80s. Two journalists working

at the paper bought the title for £1.

The paper won start-up funding in the form of a

government-guaranteed £50,000 bank loan under

the auspices of the then Co-operative

Development Agency, which helped draw up a

business plan. It also received £100,000 from the

London Development Agency set up by Ken

Livingstone's Greater London Council.

In four years the paper was able to pay back both

loans. Eric Gordon, who has been running the

paper since it launched in 1982 says the paper

has been profitable ever since: "We've never had

to borrow any more money. You can manage if

you make a net margin of 10 per cent, to invest."

He is now divesting himself of the paper's ownership

in favour of a community trust.

These could include:

l requirements to invest a specified proportion of

profits into editorial resources

l requirements over staffing ratios

l caps on directors' pay

l ratios for originally produced content or commitments

on the maintenance of


l procedures that require companies to make the

economic case when looking to cut jobs

l respect for core labour rights, collective bargaining

and the right to decent work

l obligations to monitor the health and safety of workers,

particularly in relation to workplace stress.

Finally, consideration must be given to how support

can be given to new start-up organisations that could

deliver quality local media. Such an approach could

work (see case study below) and there is already

precedent for public/private cooperation in this field,

such as with Kent TV.

The role and effect of search engines

and online content aggregators on local


Google News and Yahoo! News attract large numbers

of visitors and consequently are hugely profitable.

Google's revenues from its British operations last year

were £1.25 billion. However, according to the

Guardian it paid only £600,000 in corporation tax in

this country, diverting the rest of its British revenues

through Ireland in order to reduce its tax liability by

almost £100 million.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the structural

change affecting media companies has been Google.

By aggregating content from other broadcasters,

newspaper and magazine publishers, the world's most

popular search engine is also able to secure for itself

a dominant position in the advertising market. It

recently announced a 9% rise in profits, despite the

effects of the recession. In 2008 Google overtook ITV

for the first time as the largest advertising medium in

the UK.

The problem is that Google itself doesn't actually produce

any content - it just lives off the work of others.

And that work has to be paid for. However, given that

there are fewer adverts for the content producers to

fight over then there is less money to pay creators and

so media companies axe journalists, photographers

and editors.

The long term impact is accelerating the decline of

existing media and acting as a barrier to new entrants

who rely on advertising, leading to fewer jobs and a

narrowing of the range of media at a local level.

Of course the fault lies not just with Google's parasitic

model - news owners have failed to invest in their

online operations in a way that could replace declining

advertising revenues in traditional media. When the

times were good directors chose to return money to

shareholders rather than invest in the editorial staff

and resources necessary to produce top quality online

news services.

"Who will tell you what the local councils are up to

in future? Not Google. Who will cover the magistrates'

courts, the inquests, the local crime, the

speech days? Not Google".

Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor The Sun.

The opportunities and implications of

BBC partnerships with local media

The NUJ has a number of concerns about the way in

which partnerships between the BBC and other media

operators could damage plurality and undermine quality

journalism. Any moves in this direction must ensure

that editorial integrity of different operators is not damaged

- that the news agenda does not become

merged by default. The current proposals are said to

include the idea of regular morning news meetings,

which would seem to indicate a danger of a single

news agenda being set.

The availability of footage is clearly crucial in determining

what is covered, and therefore where footage

is shared, it is likely that difference between bulletins

will be reduced. There are also a number of practical

aspects that must be addressed. Some of these

issues, such as space requirements, could be dealt

with through local negotiations, but broader issues,

such as systems for booking crews have wider implications

for editorial integrity and the quality of the finished

journalistic product.

The future of local radio and TV news

The NUJ believes firmly that the BBC should remain

the cornerstone of public service broadcasting in the

UK - and it alone should be in receipt of the licence

fee - but that there should also be public service provision

and funding beyond the BBC.

It is our view that ITV's scale, reach and infrastructure

make it best placed to provide news across the

nations and regions separate from the BBC.

However, if alternative models are considered, a number

of key questions would need to be addressed.

STV has volunteered to participate in a pilot programme

of the news consortia idea that has been

suggested by Ofcom. The NUJ would very much welcome

the opportunity to be involved in the establishment

of any such pilot programme.

Where competitive funding is considered as a method

for filling agreed time slots on the Channel 3 network,

it would be necessary to ensure that competitive bidding

does not drive down quality. Our experience with

ITN is that the value of the contract has been consistently

eroded and underbid thereby leading to cuts,

which are undermining the company's ability to maintain


Quality of provision will inevitably suffer in a situation

where providers are being expected to outbid each

other in relation to their "efficient" delivery of a service.

Such an approach is likely to see the development of

a tick-box mentality, with providers looking to drive

costs down to the bare minimum that would enable

them to meet any specific obligations that are laid

down. This would do nothing to maintain or improve

quality. Evidence from other sectors shows that quality

of service tends to suffer where bidders are expected

to compete in this way.

Whilst it is important to ensure mechanisms are in

place to ensure that public funding and/or subsidy is

spent efficiently, a competitive funding model for the

provision of core public service television objectives

could drive down quality and see an erosion of commitment

to long-term public interest goals. Cost must

not be the only criteria on which bids are assessed -

in fact it should not even be the most important criteria.

Quality must come first.

Any such approach must therefore have safeguards in

place to ensure that quality is the number one consideration

when assessing potential suppliers. It is important

governance mechanisms are robust enough to

ensure those in receipt of public subsidy/funding are

accountable and that there are clear enforcement

mechanisms to enable regulators to ensure that in

return for such subsidy public service purposes are


A number of clear administrative and regulatory safeguards

would need to be put in place in advance of

any changes. Specific slots on the Channel 3 network

would need to be agreed and set in stone in advance,

along with clear definitions of what constitutes quality

local news. Minimum health and safety standards

must be put in place, as must requirements concerning

the terms and conditions of journalists employed,

including a requirement to recognise the relevant


If any moves in this direction were to be made, it

would be essential to ensure that existing employees

of Channel 3 news providers (ITV, STV, UTV) would

have the right to be transferred to the new provider

under the TUPE transfer of undertakings rules, which

govern employment rights in these situations.

The appropriateness and effectiveness

of print and electronic publishing

initiatives undertaken directly by public

sector bodies at the local level

There has been a significant growth in media produced

by public sector bodies in recent years to provide

information to residents/citizens in a wider variety

of formats. There is concern where this is seen to

compete directly with local media, in particular where

it competes for commercial advertising.

The growth in such media is largely the result of two

issues - a greater appreciation in general of the need

to get across information to those who fund public

bodies and the failure of local newspapers to meet

their public service obligations and/or their withdrawal

from certain parts of local communities. For example,

Johnston Press has now withdrawn from delivering

newspapers to certain parts of Leeds because of a

combination of factors - the population demographics

do not match the needs of advertisers and sales are

too low in those areas to justify the cost.

In those circumstances public sector bodies still have

a duty to provide information to citizens and they can

contribute to the diversity of voices available to citizens.

According to the LGA only 2% of councils produce

weekly publications, the majority are monthly or less

regular. In these circumstances guidelines should be

drawn up to minimise competition for advertising and

to ensure councils use their advertising budgets to

ensure citizens get value for money - which almost

certainly means a mix of newspaper and radio advertising

as well as through their own publishing outlets.

Opportunities for online and ultra-local

media services

Last year regional press companies argued against

BBC involvement in local video because they said it

would stop them investing. Then, with the potential

competition seen off, they pushed on with massive

cost cutting programmes that are resulting in journalists'

jobs being slashed and the quality of local media

damaged. Between the BBC Local decision and

January this year, the NUJ has identified more than

700 editorial job cuts across the regional press. We

believe the decision around BBC Local should be


There is a role that could be played by regional development

authorities, local government or other such

bodies in providing the financial support and expertise

in establishing professional ultra-local news services.

Whilst some attempts have been made, to date, most

such projects have suffered from having insufficient

start-up capital to find the business through its crucial

first few years (see incentives section above).

Any such services need a professional element to

them if they are to perform the important social and

democratic functions we currently expect of our local

media. Not only does professional journalism brings

with it appropriate ethics and standards, it also brings

a consistency - ensuring that any individual outlet is

not dependent on the time specific individuals are able

to give up for the project.


There is a strong lobby for government support for the

training of journalists. The NUJ would welcome such

support but is adamant any assistance should seek to

achieve other public purposes. Support for training

could make a significant contribution towards improving

access to the journalistic profession. It could help

to support other government initiatives such as the

work of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions

chaired by Alan Milburn MP.

A 2002 survey by the Journalism Training Forum is

widely quoted when examining the training and background

of people entering journalism and is still the

largest ever independent study on the topic.

It found that:

l New entrants to the industry came overwhelmingly

from middle class families, with more than two-thirds

coming from homes where the main wage earner

worked in a professional or senior managerial occupation.

l Under 10 per cent of new entrants came from a

working-class background, with just three per cent

coming from homes headed by semi- or unskilled


l Just four per cent of journalists came from ethnic

minority backgrounds

l 98 per cent of all journalists had a degree or postgraduate

degree level qualification - the exceptions

being older journalists who had been in the profession

for a long time

l Almost half had postgraduate qualifications, mostly

in journalism

The existing training and recruitment processes in the

industry create barriers that prevent many people from

gaining access to journalism as a career. Journalism

is about people, and the profession should therefore

strive to reflect the society on which it reports. Any

action with regards to training needs to consider how

it can help tackle the inequalities in the current system.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

The special nature of Scotland, Wales and Northern

Ireland means that consideration should be given to

how any action to support local media will impact on

these parts of the UK. Not only do they have specific

cultural identities and differing media environments to

the English regions. They also have devolved institutions

that must be held to account.

This submission should therefore be read in conjunction

with our submissions and evidence given to other

Westminster committees and the Scottish Parliament,

Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly

regarding the role of local news in these nations.

Further information can be supplied on request.


Whilst much of this submission has focused on staff

job cuts freelance journalists are suffering as much, if

not more, from the crisis facing local media.

The NUJ's Disappearing Freelance Work report published

in January 2009 cites cuts in freelance work at

the Yorkshire Post, Scottish and Universal

Newspapers, the Western Mail and South Wales

Echo, South Wales Argus, The Press in York, the

Northern Echo in Darlington, the Bristol Evening Post

and Western Morning News

Freelances provide an important resource for the local

newspaper industry - particularly those who are specialists

or have strong local contacts but they have

suffered from the same arbitrary cost-cutting as staff

journalists. Photographers in particular have been

hard hit by this false economy. In some places we

have recorded instances of management edicts that

photographic jobs can only be booked between certain

hours (despite the fact that by its very nature

news doesn't always work to a particular timetable) in

order to save money.

The full Disappearing Freelance Work report is available