NUJ stimulus plan to save local news

The National Union of Journalist today urged new Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw to adopt an eight-point economic stimulus plan to help local journalism.

The government is to publish its Digital Britain report later this month which is expected to include proposals aimed at safeguarding the future of local journalism.

In a letter to the minister, NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Local media is being undermined by the sapping away of resources from local newsrooms and a failure by major companies to invest in quality journalism.

“The following plan could be implemented by government as a strategic and coordinated response to the decline in local media. Any action must focus on improving investment in local journalism – ensuring communities get the quality of news they deserve.”

So far more than 130 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion which “calls on the Government to explore innovative solutions to preserve local journalism and to ensure that state support, either in the form of deregulatory measures or financial help, is given only where firm guarantees on investment in local journalism are secured”.

The NUJ has suggested the following measures in its stimulus package:

  • “The reform of cross-media ownership rules with a strengthened public interest test. A new public interest test must ensure newsgathering will not be damaged by any cross-media merger.”
  • “A hard and fast commitment to ring-fence licence fee funding for the BBC. Any sharing of the licence fee would undermine quality and could jeopardise editorial integrity by creating a de facto competitive funding model.”
  • “A levy introduced on commercial operators who benefit from quality public service content – including local news – but do not contribute to its production. Such money could be used to support local/regional news on channel 3.”
  • “Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined public purposes. Create incentives for investment in quality local journalism that is rooted in our communities.”
  • “Tax credits for individuals who buy quality media. Credits should be targeted, via subscription based models, at people buying newspapers that meet specified criteria around original journalism.”
  • “Direct support to help establish new genuinely local media organisations. Media organisations should be required to sell on the names of titles they close down to community trusts for a nominal fee.”
  • “Strategic use of central and local government advertising. An assessment of investment in quality journalism should be made when identifying appropriate targets.”
  • “Support for training opportunities that open access to journalism. Direct support for training to give media workers the skills they need for modern newsrooms.”

The union suggests that “quality criteria” should be the only way to decide who gets government support. The NUJ says that these criteria could incude: requirements to invest a specified proportion of profits into editorial resources; requirements over staffing ratios; ratios for originally produced content; commitments to maintain titles, offices and pagination and obligations to monitor employee workloads and stress.”

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