The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport established the Cairncross Review to examinine the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK. The Review is particularly concerned with the Press and says that it will give equal weight to the needs of consumers and industry.
But many fear its real intention is to justify subsidising corporate news organisations that have already failed to act in the public interest and are more concerned with profit margins than democratic intent. MRC has now produced an extensive response [pdf] to its call for submissions arguing for a series of initiatives to revitalise local journalism on a democratic and participatory basis.
- The Cairncross Inquiry must focus on developing recommendations aimed not at protecting legacy brands or titles but at nurturing particular journalistic practices, especially those most likely to counter sources of propaganda, disinformation and disengagement.
- Local news has an especially important role to play in serving communities that have been disenfranchised. Concentration, closures and job losses demonstrate the need for remedial action to protect local news and to secure it as a public good.
- Digital transformations present opportunities to reinvigorate local journalism but they are not a magic bullet. The Inquiry needs to learn lessons from initiatives and experiments – from the use of charitable status to membership organisations and from the provision of tax relief to the distribution of subsidies such as New Jersey’s Civic Information Consortium – designed to provide a secure funding base for local news.
- This is all the more essential if new ventures are to avoid the risks posed by the emergence of branded content and ‘native advertising’ as a replacement for traditional advertising revenue. The Inquiry needs to find mechanisms to ensure that local media are insulated from the types of programmatic, behavioural and contextual advertising that generate clickbait and disinformation and that have led to falling levels of trust in social media.
- Digital intermediaries have failed to provide a secure environment for high-quality news and are not re-investing their advertising revenue back into original news content creation. News organisations are, in turn, increasingly forced to sensationalise their material in order to attract the eyeballs and attention that is endemic in a clickbait environment.
- We propose the setting up of a networked local news wire service, composed of a series of small ‘hubs’, that would resource existing local news providers on the one hand, whilst also offering a significant boost to plurality at the level of wholesale newsgathering. This would create a new infrastructure for local news provision and lead to the creation of approximately 1600 jobs.
- This wire service should be funded by a small levy on digital advertising revenues earned by the largest companies or through the receipts from the next auction of spectrum previously occupied by Digital Terrestrial Television.
The Media Reform Coalition is holding a public meeting on What is wrong with our Press and how can we fix it? What should the Cairncross Review recommend? This will take place from 5-7pm on Thursday 4 October at Birbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC! (room TBC). Speakers include: Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary, Dr Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power, Kings College London, Professor Angela Phillips, Media Reform Coalition and Goldsmiths University of London, Kerry-Ann Mendoza, The Canary, Jim Cusick, Journalist.