‘Newspapers Need Government Help To Survive’

(Press Gazette) – HULL DAILY MAIL EDITOR John Meehan has made a plea to the government for urgent help to deal with the crisis facing the regional newspaper industry.

Speaking at a culture, media and sport select committee meeting in York on the future of local and regional media, Meehan said the impact of newspaper closures on communities could be devastating.

He told a packed public meeting: ‘There is no doubt that people are getting more and more of their news information, particularly local regional news information, from the internet, from digital means.

‘What we have got to remember though is fundamentally that information is funded by newspaper companies. Whether you are picking it up off Twitter or Facebook, the original source was probably a newspaper journalist.

‘We all know that news travels faster than ever before. If the foundation stone of that news industry is removed, which is local newspapers, you won’t be able to get it on Twitter or Facebook.

‘It won’t exist. Or what you will get on Twitter or Facebook is unverified news. Unverified news isn’t news, it isn’t independent.

‘Is it news you can trust? And is it news that contributes to a properly-functioning democracy?’

Meehan added: ‘It has become really clear that politicians have woken up to the urgency of this crisis.

‘In recent months all parties are talking about it. You are concerned about it because you want us to continue to exist, to report what you do.

‘It is really important that it isn’t just words, it isn’t just concern.

‘There has to be action and it seems to be there is a lot of talk, there’s lots of plans. We don’t need lots and lots of words, we need lots and lots of action now because the crisis is now.

‘Newspapers are closing, jobs are being lost, the ability of our business to perform our valuable role in society is being diminished almost by the day.

‘So the message I would like you to go with is what can be done? What can we press the government to do now? Not months ahead, not years ahead, but what about now?’

Other topics discussed at yesterday’s meeting included the long-term future of regional TV newsgathering, and whether some of the BBC licence fee should be used to help other sections of the media industry.

Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, the regional screen agency, was warmly applauded when she praised the region’s journalists.

She said: ‘Looking around the room tonight we have some of the country’s finest journalists.

‘A huge part of the value of regional news is unearthing those stories that come to the national attention.

‘There is no substitute for proper investigative journalism. The kind of stuff that comes out of the Hull Daily Mail, Calendar, BBC Look North, Yorkshire Evening Post and many other people.

‘Somebody has to pay. It is that important, we have to find the money.’

The select committee event is part of a two-day fact-finding trip to Yorkshire by the group of MPs. Today they will visit some of the region’s key media outlets, including the Yorkshire Post and Real Radio.

The committee launched a wide-ranging investigation in March into the future of local and regional journalism, in response to the cutbacks and job losses that have engulfed the media industry in recent months.

Since last summer, more than 1,000 journalists’ jobs are believed to have been cut from regional newspapers. Dozens of newspapers have closed and many towns have lost their newspaper offices.

The group is looking at the impact of newspaper closures on independent local journalism, how to fund quality journalism and the opportunities for ultra-local news services.

It is also seeking views on the effect search engines, online content aggregators and council-owned newspapers are having on the local media, and what the BBC’s partnership proposals could mean for its rivals.

2 Responses

  1. Im not sure I like the way this argument is going and i am not sure Meehan has considered all the implications.

    Do we really want local and regional media organisations funded by the political establishment?

    What would that mean for soething like the Echo? Less Spink and more Labour favouritism? Then nothing but Tory coverage should they get in?

    • You are right to be concerned, Cynical. You cannot have a free, independent press if it gets into bed with the government.

      We spoke last time about the Press Association seeking government subsidy to provide a local news service, and since then the BBC has made it clear that it will not be providing Web based local news (although its radio and local TV coverage will be extended).

      The BBC news is welcome, because it means the public will have access to local, unbiased reports; but it seems there is still a reluctance from local and regional papers to take responsibility for the mess they find themselves in. And that mess is a direct result of poor management, weak editorial and lazy reporting.

      Management only invested in new technology as a means of cutting back on staff; editors filled columns with national news to compensate for reduced local coverage; and reporters staffed their desks rather than their local communities in an effort to reduce expenses.

      Government subsidy is not the answer. It is just a matter of refocusing on the communities they are meant to serve and supplementing their raw reporting with entertaining and educational journalism.

      Begging for government funds just shows a lack of professional commitment.

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