Stevens: Newspapers Are Vital Defence Against Fake News During Coronavirus Crisis

Newspapers have shared stories of hope and fostered a sense of community when everyone was struggling during the coronavirus crisis but they need support f they are to continue to perform this vital role, Jo Stevens said today.

In an op ed for Journalism Matters, the Shadow Culture Secretary said the passing of Sir Harold Evans was an important reminder of the immense difference that journalism can make to people’s lives. 

Ms Stevens said: “Two weeks ago we lost one of the most admired journalists the UK – and even the world – has ever seen. Sir Harold Evans was what every young journalist aspires to be: someone who took on the establishment and won. A man who through his work on Thalidomide, Bloody Sunday and exposing Kim Philby as a Soviet spy embodied journalism in that oft-contested phrase the “public interest”. 

“His passing was an important moment to remember the change that journalism can make. And that’s been thrown into sharp relief by the pandemic, during which newspapers have played a vital role in providing clear information to readers as a defence against the fake news and disinformation spreading so wildly online. Newspapers have also shared stories of hope, of unsung heroes and fostered a sense of community when everyone was struggling. But the pandemic has had a devastating effect on newspaper finances which were already struggling.  

“The loss of advertising revenue from covid has accelerated what was already a decline. While the online picture is patchy some titles are making money from online advertising while others are making the paywall work. 

“Local papers are closing and those that remain are too often having to cut staff, meaning fewer journalists with less time to find the stories that matter. It’s not a situation any journalist or editor wants to be in and it means that at a local level there is not the scrutiny that politicians and other local decision-makers need. It also means the pipeline of talent to the nationals is not there. 

“Evans of course didn’t start off at the Sunday Times. It was at the Northern Echo where he first made his mark as editor in the 1960s, where his campaigns resulted in a national screening programme for cervical cancer and a posthumous pardon for a young man who had been wrongly hanged for murder in 1950. Journalism, more than many other trades, benefits from more diverse voices who do not just accept the status quo but question it. And that matters today, more than ever.”