Journalism Matters: Our industry is under threat but there is hope

Local journalism is under threat.

This is not the first time I have written these words and it is unlikely it is the first time you have read them. I may sound like a broken record but I make no apologies for being stuck on repeat.

There is just too much at stake.

This week is Journalism Matters Week, a time for everyone in our industry to celebrate the best of what
we do.

It feels more important to do this than ever before.

The work done by the team at the Express constantly fills me with admiration. Even before the pandemic hit we were all working in a high pressure environment, but the team’s professionalism and commitment to the job has never wavered.

As lockdown hit, news-gathering became more challenging and deadlines became tighter. Revenue dropped 80 per cent in two weeks, so difficult decisions were made to furlough staff members to keep the business going.

Despite this, reporters did everything in their power to keep you informed on the latest public health messaging, profiling charities and organisations helping those who need it most and providing a voice to individuals and businesses that need support.

The same sort of attitude has been shown by hundreds of local reporters up and down the country. The trolls and the keyboard warriors can roll out the same tired old tropes about ‘lazy journalism’ but reporters are working harder than ever to cut through disinformation and overcome the unique challenges the pandemic has presented.

The naysayers may moan that journalism is not what it used to be, and in many ways I am inclined to agree with them. The industry has evolved, adapted and found new ways to reach more people than it ever has before. Reporting is often unrecognisable from what you may have seen in the 70s and 80s, but so is the world we live in.

The pandemic has brought out the best in local journalism, but it has caused a great deal of uncertainty over the futures of the newspapers we produce.

In recent years, local journalism has faced many threats that continue to challenge us to this day.
Many people have turned away from print newspapers as behaviours change, but as our online audiences continue to grow we have struggled to get a fair slice of the digital revenue pie in a market dominated by tech giants.

Coronavirus presented the biggest threat yet. The advertising market collapsed overnight as lockdown measures were introduced. Nationwide, newspapers have closed or reduced their output and good journalists have lost their jobs.

Many lockdown measures have now been eased but we are not out of the woods.

As we enter a recession and the second wave of the virus brings about restrictions on the way we live our lives, it will be a challenging winter for all of us. Businesses across the country will struggle as we do what is necessary to protect lives and stop the spread of this horrible virus.

As a publisher, we know the advertising market, which accounts for the majority of our revenue, will not return to what it was for some time.

But there is hope.

Across the industry, demand for local news is growing, and newspapers are looking at new ways to make money so they can continue to provide an essential service.

Many are looking at subscription or pay-as-you-read models, such as our own Axate payment system. Some readers may object, but there is a growing argument that publishers cannot continue to give away news that costs time and money to produce if they are to remain sustainable.

Behind the scenes, meetings are being held, calls are being made and letters are being written to find new funding models to support our industry. Questions are being asked. Is there a way we can secure our fair share of online revenue? How can we protect jobs to ensure we can continue to cover the stories that matter?

But for all the work we are doing to protect our future, the most important factor remains unchanged: our readers.

Without you, none of this would matter.

It is your support that has helped us through the lockdown period, and it will help us through the winter.

A belief that the world needs local newspapers – which I know many of you share – will help us ensure the world will have local newspapers in the future.

Thank you.

James Preston

Print and Digital Editor

Baylis Media Ltd

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