From the Index: 
Independent publishers are looking to the future  

The final excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021.

  • 30% of publishers in our survey believe that the public’s post-Covid-19 awareness of the importance of local journalism is the greatest opportunity affecting them. 
  • A significant minority (14%) see their greatest opportunity as increased awareness of the harm of mainstream media. 

  • 32% of publishers in our survey say that equal access to funding and advertising contracts, in line with larger organisations, would be the most helpful support for their organisation. 

We asked publishers a series of open questions about the challenges and opportunities that they see on the road ahead. Publishers provided narrative answers to these questions, which we grouped into categories. 

When we asked, ‘What do you consider to be the greatest opportunities for your organisation over the next five years?’, the most common type of response (30%) related to the public’s post-Covid-19 awareness of the importance of local journalism. Respondents highlighted the opportunity for independent publishers who have ‘genuine connected audiences,’ and said that, in responding to the pandemic, they have become more involved in their communities. In general, they stressed their belief that independent publishers are covering news stories that would otherwise go untold. 

 

However, alongside this turn towards trustworthy sources of news, some publishers (14%) stressed the public’s turn away from ‘mainstream media’, citing, for example, the mainstream media’s ‘marginalisation’ of certain communities.  

When we asked, ‘What would be most helpful in progressing your organisation forward?’, 32% of answers related to the need for equal access to (government) funding and advertising contracts. A further 11% spoke to the need for government to give more priority to local publishers; and 9% called for support with the transition to digital. Thus, a majority of our publishers are asking the government to take urgent action on behalf of the sector. 

There is no shortage of good ideas for how the government might support journalism. For example, the Forum on Information & Democracy has recently proposed a range of sensible interventions, including ‘mechanisms for citizens to support independent media of their choosing through media vouchers, tax relief on subscriptions, or income tax designations’. 

Recommendations 

We recommend that policymakers take forward appropriate recommendations of the Forum on Information & Democracy

 

We also recommend that policymakers review all interventions by central and local government in the news media to ensure that they are not having a discriminatory impact on independent publishers. 

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This post is an excerpt from the Public Interest News Foundation’s Index of Independent News Publishing 2021. The Index 2021 is the first in a planned series of annual surveys. We’re keen to hear your feedback, such as suggestions for further research over the years to come. 

Authors: Dr Clare Cook, Dr Jonathan Heawood, Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis and Joe Mitchell.  

 

With thanks to the 56 publishers who took part in the survey. For more on the survey methodology, please see the full report.