Cairncross Issues Call For Evidence in Press Sustainability Review 

Dame Frances Cairncross, chair of the independent review into the future of high-quality journalism in the UK, has issued a call for evidence as new research published shows that total press industry revenues declined by more than half over the last 10 years.

Research from Mediatique published alongside the call for evidence today shows that the press invests far more in the production of journalism than other news media, spending nearly £1 billion on journalism in 2017 alone. 

Announcing the call for evidence, Culture Secretary Matt Hancock highlighted the vital role played by the press in underpinning democratic society by holding power to account. He said: “Our fearless and independent press plays a vital role in informing citizens and is one of the foundations on which our democracy is built.

“At a time of dramatic technological changes and with our institutions under threat from disinformation, we need this clear-eyed view of how high-quality journalism can continue to be effectively produced, distributed and consumed.

“Local and regional newspapers have been particularly affected by revenue challenges due to the movement of local and classified advertising online. The research indicates that over 300 local and regional titles have closed since 2007 – raising the prospect of communities being left without local news provision.”

The review is investigating the overall state of the news media market, particularly the press industry, including threats to financial sustainability, the role and impact of digital search engines and social media platforms, the operation of the digital advertising supply chain, and how content and data flows are operated and managed.

Questions include: “Do the news publishers receive a fair proportion of revenues for their content when it is accessed through digital platforms? If not, what would be a fair proportion or solution and how could it best be achieved?”

Dame Frances said: “This review is not about preserving the status quo. We need to explore ways in which we can ensure that consumers in 10 years’ time have access to high-quality journalism which meets their needs, is delivered in the way they want, and supports democratic engagement.

“This call for evidence enables all those with an interest to contribute their knowledge and views so we can build the evidence and make impactful recommendations to move forward.”

The call for evidence will close on 7 September and the News Media Association will be submitting evidence. The final report is due to be published early next year.

The Mediatique research shows significant changes to technology and consumer behaviour are posing problems for high-quality journalism – both in the UK and globally.

A calculation of the contributions to editorial journalism of key providers in broadcasting, online and newspapers foudn that, despite severe revenue challenges and lower profitability, the newspaper industry contributes 50 per cent of total editorial journalism in the UK – more than online and broadcast news combined. In 2017, this amounted to an investment of £925 million.

But the report warned: “Future declines in revenues, if they incite like-for like reductions in expenditure, will have a large impact on the creation of news in the UK. Moreover, as newspaper publishers lose ground to digital natives there is every expectation of the problem worsening.

“Digital natives do not contribute significantly to editorial resources, even though they are likely to have siphoned advertising income away from traditional publishers. If less is spent on content, circulation declines could accelerate further, and fewer users may engage with newsbrands online. A vicious cycle may beckon.”

Circulation and print advertising revenues have dropped by more than half over the last decade, from nearly £7 billion to just over £3 billion, according to the research. Over the same time, the number of frontline print journalists has dropped by over 25 per cent – from around 23,000 in 2007 to 17,000 in 2017.

Mediatique estimates that, despite sharp rises in cover prices in recent years, offsetting some of the impact of declines in circulation, circulation revenues have reduced to £1.7 billion in 2017, compared to £2.2 billion in 2007

Total press advertising expenditure, excluding digital, has declined across the national and local press by 70 per cent in the last ten years – from £4.6 billion in 2007 to an estimated £1.4 billion in 2017, according to Mediatique.

The call for evidence also cites the Reuters Institute Digital News Report which found that the use of Facebook as a source of news was down on last year as people prefer to discuss news through more private social media. Despite this, accessing news through a ‘side door’, not direct from news site, is still at 65 per cent.

Quoting the NMA’s research with Newswhip last year, the report said that eight of the 10 most shared UK websites on social media over the year to July 2017 were news sites, and that almost 50 per cent of all engagements with UK websites on social media featured content sourced from UK news publishers.

More people reported being prepared to pay for news through subscriptions, donations or membership, with a direct correlation being found between those aware of the value of high quality journalism, and the problems it is facing, and the willingness to subscribe, the report found.