From the Index: 
Independent news publishers are operating on a shoestring

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

  • The typical income of independent news publishers in our survey was £42,224, but 40% of publishers generated income of less than £20,000
  • The single biggest budget line in our sample is editorial, at 32% of total expenditure. 

  • Publishers who focus on national news tend to have higher revenues (median revenue £102,008) than publishers who focus on local or niche news (median revenue £21,099).  

 

The independent sector is a vital part of the news economy. Just like professional news publishers around the world, the publishers in our sample are investing a third of their budgets in editorial content. Many local and niche publishers in our sample are members of IMPRESS, which sets and enforces high ethical standards of journalism. However, our survey suggests that it is easier for publishers to make money from national news than from local or niche news. 

 

In this way, the digital economy is contributing to a market failure for important forms of journalism. Local and niche forms of news inevitably have smaller audiences than national or general news. However, these smaller audiences are no less important. The digital economy’s bias towards scale is not only contributing to a market failure; it is widening the democratic deficit, leaving some communities disenfranchised, and vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation.

 

Without the resources or scope to increase their revenue, local and specialist publishers face particular challenges to serve these vulnerable audiences. 

Recommendations 

 

We recommend that policymakers and philanthropists take urgent steps to build the independent sector’s capacity for growth. 

We also recommend that policymakers and philanthropists provide particular support to publishers who are delivering local or niche news, which may be commercially unviable. 

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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.