Fake news? The health of local journalism
If you’re reading this article then it probably means you interact with us on a regular basis, possibly daily, and come to us for your dose of Brighton and Hove based news.
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We’re a digital-only journal and we’re solely interested in the people and happenings of Brighton and the wider Sussex region. We have a team of journalists who aim to provide news stories with integrity and truth. But do you know much about the climate of local news, media and journalism as a whole? About the state of public interest journalism? It’s a topic that is close to our hearts and as topical as ever. There may be a few things that surprise you about how the landscape of journalism is changing and there are some horror statistics that might shock you. But there is also hope for the future too. The evidence we’ve gathered is not fake news…or not as far as we know.
Let’s take the printed national media, from broadsheets to tabloids and everything in-between, and set them aside for now. Brighton Journal is an advocate and purveyor of public interest journalism (news which helps the common good and has an interest in the welfare and security of people). We’re not interested in spin, sensationalism, gossip or political agenda. But, as noble as that may sound, so many of our counterparts and fellow community journals are suffering, up and down the UK.
Valerie Mocker, director of Future News Fund Pilot explains,
“Reliable, accurate and high-quality news to local level has been under threat for some time now, eroding an essential mechanism for citizens to engage their communities, exercise their democratic rights and hold institutions to account.”
Why and how this epidemic has swept the nation is complex. But the evidence is out there – and if we take it to be true then some of the key facts and figures are startling:
- Half of UK adults worry about “fake news” or disinformation. A quarter of them don’t know how to verify sources of information they find online. Therefore, platforms must begin to identify and remove deliberate spread of misinformation on their services.
- Although news can be found on TV and radio, the written press (print or online) is responsible for the largest quantity of original journalism and is most at risk – particularly investigative journalism and democracy reporting.
- Print advertising revenues have dropped by more than two-thirds since 2007.
- Print circulation of national press fell from 11.5 million daily copies in 2008 to 5.8 million in 2018.
- Local paper circulation fell from 63 million per week to 31 million per week in the same time period.
- The number of full-time frontline journalists in the UK has dropped from an estimated 23,000 in 2007, to just 17,000 today, and that number is still falling.
Of course, the rise and dominance of the conglomerates (Facebook and Google) has played a part and as ever, they’re watching us closely…
- UK internet advertising expenditure increased from £3.5 billion in 2008 to 11.5 in 2017, an annual growth of 14%.
- Publishers rely heavily on display advertising for revenue – which in the past decade has transformed into a complex system known as programme advertising.
- Collectively, Facebook and Google were estimated to have accounted for over half (54%) of all UK online advertising revenues in 2017.
- The major online platforms collect multiple first-party datasets from large numbers of logged-in users. They generally do not share date with third parties, including publishers.
These findings were published as part of The Cairncross Review, a government-backed investigation by Dame Frances Cairncross into the ways in which high-quality UK journalism can be sustained and funded in the future. Her findings led her to conclude that there should be a public investigation into the dominance of Facebook and Google in the advertising marketplace and she also recommended that a new regulator should oversee the relationship between news outlets and technology giants.
Such an assertion is music to our ears at Brighton Journal – we want to work alongside the local community and businesses and to aid them with advertising and marketing. Dame Cairncross also recommended that direct funding was made available for public-interest news outlets, with public funds used to support the reporting of local democracy through a new institute of public interest news. The doom and gloom meter may have started to twitch the other way; there is a glimmer of hope for the future for local press.
Following the findings of the Cairncross Review, the innovation foundation Nesta are about to launch a £2 million pilot scheme which aims to support public interest journalism in the UK. It will back promising technologies, models and ideas, so communities across the UK have access to reliable and accurate news about the issues which matter most. The Nesta-funded initiative ‘The Future News Fund’ will be chaired by Valerie Mocker.
Dame Frances remarked, “I am delighted that the innovation fund suggested in my review is being piloted. Innovation is important if news organisations and especially small and local providers of news, are to survive and to provide accessible public-interest news for the widest possible audience.”
Once the scheme and the funding are triggered, in the coming autumn, the government will then use the Nesta prototype to inform them of how to progress with their own funding and support system in the future. Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright explains, “While we are still developing our full response to The Cairncross Review, our plans to open a pilot fund now will help papers explore innovative ways of providing the public service journalism that citizens need and deserve.”
Despite the ongoing issues the written press has experienced over the past decade or so it appears to be coming out fighting. With the positive news regarding The Cairncross Review and the Nesta funding, it appears that local journalism is following suit and evolving in order to survive. Brighton Journal is no different; we work with local colleges and universities to offer budding writers their first step onto the journalism ladder.
We have a long history of this, and we will endeavour to support young writers in the future. We also take pride in working closely with local businesses, enterprises and entrepreneurs with their advertising and marketing. We’re grateful for the trust they show in us as well as being grateful for our large audience and loyal following. Your support allows us to continue reporting on local events and to do it with integrity and honesty. Long may it continue.