Sustainability of Local Journalism

Sustainability of Local Journalism

To read about the sustainability of local journalism, download the Enders Analysis report

Local journalism plays a vital role in society and democracy by providing reliable and editorially controlled news and information sources for communities across the UK. Local news brands act as watchdogs for their communities, bringing social, economic, and democratic benefits, including increased local election turnout, and community engagement.

Local journalists sit at the heart of their communities, reporting on the stories that matter to residents. They hold those in power accountable, ensuring for example that readers are properly informed before making decisions at the ballot box, as well as continuing to shine a light on important issues that would otherwise go unscrutinised.

Current situation 

"What I care about is the long-term sustainability of local news. Making it a profitable business is a key part to ensuring it remains powerful and relevant."

Liverpool Echo editor, Maria Breslin

Published in 2019, the Cairncross Review highlighted the challenges facing a sustainable future for journalism, yet the recommendations in this powerful report have not been implemented and it has still not resulted in clear and decisive action from government to meaningfully strengthen the sustainability of local journalism. There is a strong future for independent, commercial local news media in the UK, but their business model is challenged by a market rigged in favour of the platforms. This pressure is likely to increase significantly over the coming year as the general economic outlook deteriorates. A big step forward for the industry would be for the DMU to get the statutory powers it needs to level the playing field between publishers and the platforms, including a mechanism for smaller local publishers to negotiate effectively with the platforms.

In the meantime, short-term interventions are required to support the transition to sustainable digital-first business models for local publishing, including providing a package of targeted, short-term financial measures to support local publishers. This could include extending local newspaper business rate relief, and introducing new tax reliefs for journalism and advertising. Limiting the scope and scale of the BBC’s online news services and expanding the BBC/NMA Local News Partnership, while encouraging negotiation and collaboration with commercial publishers would also be a welcome step forward. Crucially, the statutory obligation to place public notices in printed local newspapers must be maintained to protect the public right to know and safeguard this important revenue stream for local journalism.

What action do we want to see?

The NMA continues to make the case for targeted interventions to support local journalism while work is done to address the structural problems in the digital advertising marketplace.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the NMA was successful in securing government agreement for the ‘All Together’ advertising campaign to keep communities informed about important public health information. The NMA continues to press government to build on this success, with a long-term government advertising partnership with news publishers which – such as ‘All Together’ – specifically prioritises local news publishers.

Trusted local news media is innovating to create a strong and sustainable future for local journalism in the UK, with a recent example being the industry launch of the Public Notice Portal. To safeguard publishers’ efforts, the NMA continues to make the case to government to increase their ad spending with local news brands. The Enders Analysis report on the sustainability of local journalism, published in August 2023, stated that government support in this manner would help accelerate publishers’ efforts in innovation.