1.The production and consumption of journalism have been transformed in the first 20 years of this century. The circulation of UK national and regional print newspapers (see Figure 1) and monthly consumer print magazines (see Figure 2) have fallen dramatically. In 2019, only 38 per cent of UK adults accessed news via print newspapers and 11 per cent via print magazines, compared with 75 per cent via television, 66 per cent via the internet and 43 per cent via radio.1 In parallel, digital subscriptions have risen, yet these have not offset a steep overall decline in advertising revenue.
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), ‘ABC Data Hub’, available at: https://www.abc.org.uk/data [accessed 23 November 2020]. Note: membership of ABC may change over time.
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulations, ‘Consumer Magazine Data’, available at: https://www.abc.org.uk/data/consumer-magazines [accessed 23 November 2020]. Note: membership of ABC may change over time.
2.This change in the business model of journalism has created an existential threat to the industry, particularly combined with a host of other challenges ranging from a surge in ‘fake news’ to the ability of giant technology platforms such as Facebook and Google to undercut the power of publishers and their revenues. Alongside these changes there has been consolidation in the industry: since 2005 245 newspaper outlets have closed;2 of the remaining outlets, five companies hold an 80 per cent share of the market.3 Although economically necessary for some organisations, this consolidation has nonetheless especially impacted regional and local publications.
3.Journalism is important to a healthy democracy. Professor Natalie Fenton, Chair of the Media Reform Coalition, told us:
“A healthy news media is often claimed to be the life-blood of democracy. This is because news provides, or should provide, the vital resources for processes of information gathering, deliberation and analysis that enable citizens to participate in political life and democracy to function better.”4
4.Journalism should be enabled to thrive in the face of contemporary challenges. We aim to produce recommendations that will allow the industry to adapt to a changing market. These will cover the industry in general, although our focus is on news journalism.
5.We build on previous work, including our reports UK Advertising in a Digital Age (April 2018)5, Regulating in a Digital World (March 2019)6 and Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever (November 2019)7, as well as other work on journalism, most notably the Cairncross Review8 and the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies’ report Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust.9
6.In UK Advertising in a Digital Age we raised concerns over the lack of transparency in digital media advertising, with Google alone having “control at all levels of the market”. We recommended that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should conduct a market study of digital advertising to investigate whether the market is working fairly for businesses and consumers.10
7.Similarly, in Regulating in a Digital World we challenged the role of data monopolies and recommended a review of competition law in the context of digital markets; we again called for a market study. The CMA’s report, Online Platforms and Digital Advertising, published in July 2020, helped inform our conclusions in this report on the relationship between publishers and platforms.11. In Regulating in a Digital World we found that gaps exist in regulation which do not clearly fall within one regulator’s remit. We argued that: “Policy makers have hesitated to address these gaps. When action does occur, there is a risk that it will be misdirected.”12 To help tackle this fragmented and reactive approach, we recommended that a Digital Authority should be established to co-ordinate digital regulators.13
8.In Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever we addressed the position of public service broadcasters (PSBs), including the BBC and commercial public service broadcasters (ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5). One of our findings, which also is relevant to the current inquiry, was that people from certain groups are underrepresented across UK film and TV production. To help tackle this, we recommended that: “The Government should empower Ofcom to collect data on the diversity of production crews making programmes for public service broadcasters, whether in-house or independent.”14
9.In this report we will build on this drive for diversification and for transparency in reporting on employee demographics. We also expand our definition of diversity to recognise that diversity, as well as including demographic diversity, includes diversity of representation, perspectives, views, opinions and backgrounds. This goes beyond a diversity of political viewpoints to include a diversity of perspectives informed by often invisible characteristics such as regional backgrounds and socio-economic status, which is also referred to as diversity of thought.
10.This report will also build on the Cairncross Review (see Box 1), published in February 2019 and to which the Government responded in January 2020. The review focused on two questions: first, the relationship between media publishers and big online platforms; and second, how society could best support ‘public interest’ local and investigative journalism. While our report examines journalism in general rather than focusing on local and investigative journalism, it will refer to ideas discussed in the Cairncross Review. These include online advertising, the Government’s media literacy strategy, the role of innovation funds and interpretation of charitable status for public interest journalism organisations.15
In 2018 Dame Frances Cairncross was appointed to chair a review to examine the sustainability of high-quality journalism. This was in response to falling circulations and publisher revenues, ongoing closures of local newspapers and losses of journalist jobs. The review made nine recommendations to the Government:
The review was published in February 2019 and the Government’s full response was published in January 2020. The Government was largely supportive of the review’s recommendations. The Government accepted that codes of conduct may be useful; launched a CMA review; agreed that platforms should take stepsto help users identify the reliability of sources; accepted the creation of a media literacy strategy, outlined in its Online Harms White Paper;16 welcomed Ofcom’s decision to conduct a review into the BBC’s news output; launched a Nesta pilot innovation fund; suggested the Chancellor will consider tax incentives; and has encouraged the evaluation of the BBC’s LDRS. However, the Government did not commit to the establishment of an Institute for Public Interest News, arguing that it is not for government to lead on the issue.
11.Finally, we will refer to issues also raised by the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies in its report Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust. These include the Committee’s discussion of public interest news, the CMA’s online advertising report, the responsibilities of online platforms, transparency of platforms’ algorithms and media literacy.
12.During our inquiry the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic, which served as a reminder of the importance of journalism. Her Majesty the Queen noted:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has once again demonstrated what an important public service the established news media provides, both nationally and regionally. As our world has changed dramatically, having trusted, reliable sources of information, particularly at a time when there are so many sources competing for our attention, is vital.”17
13.The economic impact of the pandemic has accelerated the trends already under way in the journalism industry. The Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP, Minister for Media and Data, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, argued in oral evidence that:
“The Covid crisis has accelerated what was predicted to occur over the coming years so that it has happened in the space of a few months, with a huge take-up of online news material from newspapers and other platforms. At the same time, we have seen enormous pressure put on the traditional publishers.”18
14.We acknowledge the short-term impact that the pandemic has had on the print journalism industry, with UK advertising revenue possibly falling by 13 per cent in 2020.19 For example, City A.M. suspended its print edition and halved staff pay in April 2020;20 The Independent and indy100 furloughed staff and cut staff wages by 20 per cent for those earning over £37,500;21 BuzzFeed ended news operations in the UK;22 Reach plc cut 550 jobs;23 and The Guardian announced cuts of 180 jobs.24 It remains to be seen how long-lasting these job losses are: predictions are conflicted, with GroupM predicting the advertising market will recover by 13 per cent in 2021 to pre-COVID-19 levels,25 while PricewaterhouseCoopers predict global decline until at least 2024.26 The COVID-19 pandemic will therefore be considered in this report only insofar as it can be expected to impact the industry structurally.
15.Other important areas, such as media freedom and the safety of journalists abroad, are not within the scope of this report and have recently been covered by the Houses of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.27 Nonetheless, we would like to emphasise the importance of these issues and highlight that the inquiry took place in the context of journalists around the world facing “a wide and worsening array of abuses”;28 as we heard from Adam Thomas, Director of the European Journalism Centre (EJC), press freedom has deteriorated globally.29 As Professor Fenton wrote, a healthy news media “requires a journalism that operates freely and without interference from state institutions, corporate pressures or fear of intimidation and persecution.”30
16.Our report is focused on the future and how public policy can create the conditions for high-quality journalism to thrive. It considers how audiences can be better supported to engage with and understand journalism, the support journalists need, including to make the profession more representative of the population it serves, and how public policy can ensure news organisations find a financially sustainable future. In order to achieve these we make recommendations to the Government on how it can support the journalism industry and to the industry itself on how it can change.
17.Throughout the course of the inquiry we have been fortunate to have as our specialist adviser Professor Jane Singer, Professor of Journalism Innovation at City, University of London, who provided expert advice. We are most grateful to her for her important contribution to our work. We also thank everyone who submitted written and oral evidence.
1 Ofcom, News Consumption in the UK: 2019 (24 July 2019), p 17: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0027/157914/uk-news-consumption-2019-report.pdf [accessed 27 July 2020]. In 2019 there were 46,500 employed and 33,700 self-employed journalists (Office for National Statistics, ‘Annual Population Survey 2019—Occupation by sex, employment status and full/part time’ (2020): https://www.nomisweb.co.uk/datasets/aps210/reports/employment-by-status-and-occupation?compare=K02000001 [accessed 2 October 2020])
3 Media Reform Coalition, Who Owns the UK Media?, p 2 (12 March 2019): https://www.mediareform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/FINALonline2.pdf [accessed 1 October 2020]
5 Communications Committee, UK Advertising in a Digital Age (1st Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 116)
6 Communications Committee, Regulating in a Digital World (2nd Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 299)
7 Communications and Digital Committee, Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever (1st Report, Session 2019, HL Paper 16)
8 Dame Frances Cairncross, The Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future for Journalism (12 February 2019): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/779882/021919_DCMS_Cairncross_Review_.pdf [accessed 23 July 2020]
9 Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust (Report of Session 2019–21, HL Paper 77)
10 Communications Committee, UK Advertising in a Digital Age (1st Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 116), p 23
11 Competition and Markets Authority, Online platforms and digital advertising (1 July 2020): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5efc57ed3a6f4023d242ed56/Final_report_1_July_2020_.pdf [accessed 24 July 2020]
12 Communications Committee, Regulating in a Digital World (2nd Report, Session 2017–19, HL Paper 299), p 60
13 Ibid., pp 40, 63
14 Communications and Digital Committee, Public Service Broadcasting: as Vital as Ever (1st Report, Session 2019, HL Paper 16), p 26
15 Dame Frances Cairncross, The Cairncross Review: A Sustainable Future for Journalism (12 February 2019): https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/779882/021919_DCMS_Cairncross_Review_.pdf [accessed 23 July 2020]
16 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Online Harms White Paper, CP 57, April 2019, p 92: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/793360/Online_Harms_White_Paper.pdf [accessed 24 July 2020]
17 The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily), tweet on 5 October 2020: https://twitter.com/RoyalFamily/status/1313035329255940096/photo/1 [accessed 13 October 2020]
19 ‘UK advertising revenue could fall 13% in 2020, report finds’, ResearchLive (23 June 2020): https://www.research-live.com/article/news/uk-advertising-revenue-could-fall-13-in-2020-report-finds/id/5070682 [accessed 27 July 2020]
20 ‘City AM suspends print and cuts salaries as coronavirus hits business’, Press Gazette (20 March 2020): https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/city-am-suspends-print-and-cuts-salaries-as-coronavirus-hits-business/ [accessed 27 July 2020]
21 ‘Covid-19 ad slump costing Independent six-figures in lost revenue as it furloughs staff and cuts pay’, PressGazette (23 April 2020): https://pressgazette.co.uk/covid-19-ad-slump-costing-independent-six-figures-in-lost-revenue-as-it-furloughs-staff-and-cuts-pay/ [accessed 27 July 2020]
22 ‘Buzzfeed closing UK and Australian news operations’, BBC News (13 May 2020): https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52650038 [accessed 27 July 2020]
23 ‘Reach insiders speak out on latest redundancy plan as Mirror publisher surpasses 1,000 job cuts in a decade’, PressGazette (10 Jul 2020): https://pressgazette.co.uk/reach-insiders-speak-out-on-latest-redundancy-plan-as-mirror-publisher-surpasses-1000-job-cuts-in-a-decade/ [accessed 27 July 2020]
24 ‘Guardian to cut 180 jobs as it reveals Covid-19 will cost it £25m this year’, PressGazette (15 July 2020): https://pressgazette.co.uk/guardian-job-cuts-covid-19-annual-results/ [accessed 27 July 2020].
25 ‘UK advertising revenue could fall 13% in 2020, report finds’, ResearchLive (23 June 2020): https://www.research-live.com/article/news/uk-advertising-revenue-could-fall-13-in-2020-report-finds/id/5070682 [accessed 27 July 2020]
26 ‘Report predicts five years of steep global decline for newspaper industry revenue (print and online)’, PressGazette (14 September 2020): https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/report-predicts-five-years-of-steep-global-decline-for-newspaper-industry-revenu-print-and-online/ [accessed 1 October 2020]
27 Foreign Affairs Committee, “Media freedom is under attack”: The FCO’s defence of an endangered liberty (Twenty-Seventh Report, Session 2017–19, HC 1920)
28 Ibid., p 3