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Hyperlocals ‘out of business in weeks’ without action, government warned

meese-emmaThe trade body for hyperlocal titles has launched a national campaign to provide urgent financial assistance for its members.

The Independent Community News Network is lobby both the government and third-party organisations to help fund the sector and maintain the livelihoods of those working in it.

In an open letter, the ICNN has warned most of its 108 member publications will be out of business unless emergency funding is secured and has also demanded a share of public health advertising.

The Cardiff-based organisation’s director Emma Meese, pictured, says keeping such titles afloat will be “critical for public health” in the communities they serve.

Many of the organisation’s members are self-employed or ‘sole traders’ and will not be eligible for financial support such as the job retention scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week, which will see the government pay 80pc of the wages of “furloughed” workers.

The House of Commons Public Bill Committee has proposed an amendment to the Coronavirus Bill aimed at helping freelancers and the self-employed but ministers have yet to say whether they will accept it.

If accepted, the amendment would compel the government to introduce regulations providing that freelancers and self-employed people should receive guaranteed earnings of 80pc of their monthly net earnings, averaged over the last three years, or £2,917 per month, if this is lower.

Emma’s letter is published in full below.

As you can imagine these are very worrying times for our members.

As an organisation, we are now extremely concerned.

This is a time when our members are crucial in ensuring public information reaches communities across the UK to inform and advise about public health.

We fear that, unless we can secure some emergency funding to support small news publishers at this time, communities across the UK will lose their independent press at a time when they need it most.

It is critical for public health that these publications continue to give essential, verified and useful information to the communities they serve.

Many of our members are the only news publishers in their areas, some covering entire counties and cities. If these publishers are forced to close, the UK will be left with many more news black holes which we will struggle to fill again. We have stats that prove, even in areas with lots of local press, some of our members have the most engaged audiences.

On 20th March, in a submission to Government, the News Media Association (NMA) said that the crisis posed a grave threat to some publishers because of sharp declines in advertising and some would not survive beyond the next few months without swift intervention.

The NMA outlined a series of financial and operational interventions which are “essential to ensure news publishers continue to operate,” including:

Committing to divert Government media spend to newspapers (online and print, national and local) to ensure key public information messages are communicated to readers through an immediate and sustained advertising campaign;

We must ensure the independent publishers don’t get left out of any deals made between the Government and organisations under the umbrella of the NMA.

The Independent Community News Network (ICNN) currently has 108 members, and most will be out of business in the coming weeks due to Covid-19.

They are the only ones in our sector who are formally recognised by the BBC and Welsh Government as quality and reputable news publishers, due to our strict entry criteria and the ongoing high editorial standards of our members.

The majority of these news publishers rely on local businesses advertising. That advertising has almost disappeared overnight as businesses are forced to stop trading. Most advertisers have already cancelled, the rest will soon follow.

According to our figures, if ICNN was considered a co-operative media organisation, we would be the fourth largest news organisation in the UK. In addition – we are over a third bigger than the fifth (Archant) and sixth (Tindle), combined.

We cannot stress enough how a little funding will go a very long way with our members. The amount is very small – we are basically talking about covering individual salaries in some cases, to keep an entire publication going. None of the money will go to shareholders or to cover large overheads.

In light of the devastating cuts announced by Newsquest yesterday, it is even more important that the Government includes ICNN members in its plans when considering both Government Advertising spend and when deciding eligibility criteria for funding assistance. Whilst we recognise that efforts are being made to support small publishers across the board, we believe very strongly that ICNN members need to be considered when it comes to receiving a package of support.

Most of our members fall info the sole trader category, of which there is no government support as yet. Very few fall into the small business category, which means they qualify for financial support.

Our priorities are:

  • Getting access to any funding or support we can for ICNN members, to ensure they can continue running their publications during this critical time.
  • Getting access to any Government/Public Health/NHS advertising campaigns, alongside the NMA.
  • Ensuring ICNN members are included in the list of recognised journalists allowed out to carry on reporting in the event of a full lockdown.

One of our members has already been prohibited from reporting by a police officer, it is critical that we now get ICNN members on an approved list of key workers so they can continue with their vital work.

Forgetting the hundreds of news black holes and total loss of plurality of voice this would create if small publishers are forced to close, it is essential for Public Health during this crisis they remain afloat to serve the communities who need them now more than ever.

Business hibernation is not possible due to the nature of what these news organisations do. Now, more than ever, they need to be growing their output to help connect communities.


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  • March 25, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    This is a far more pressing issue than the constant demands from the major groups to be given funding ,calls and threats made on a far too regular basis.
    Independent hyper local publications have embedded themselves in their communities and are giving thousands of local people the level of grass roots news that’s important to their community, the kind of highly localised reporting no longer provided by the bigger groups, they represent their areas and they need to be supported, simple as that.
    A local media landscape monopolises by a handful of publishers again without the smaller independents is unthinkable

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  • March 25, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    I’m a supporter of hyperlocals and feel very sorry for their plight. However, the rules are the same, there should be no public subsidy especially for news.

    But I do agree that hyperlocals should get a slice of Government advertising. They are well read in their local communities and, as we have seen, there will be many fewer local newspapers to advertise in over the coming months.

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  • March 25, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    Fact is that hyperlocals can and do impact revenues for journalists by diverting ad streams from paid for brands that actually provide our wages. Now more than ever highlights this situation. Not for profit hyperlocals may be well intended but are a menace to regional journalism as a serious profession. Time to reflect and wake up. If we seek to be paid a reasonable living wage as journalists then say goodbye (a welcome one in some cases) to many unnecessary hyperlocal freesheets that have sprung up all over the place during the past few years.

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  • March 25, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Localist – the hyperlocals in my area are staffed by journalists made redundant from the big publishers – an editor, three deputy editors, a chief sub, chief reporter, sub and designer at least. These publications have provided a life line for experienced journalists, tossed aside by the big publishers. Sad that you think these publications are unnecessary. But worse is, how are they going to get through this?

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  • March 25, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    @ Localist
    Hyper locals aren’t “….a menace to regional journalism as a serious profession”
    The biggest threat to “serious journalism” is the embarrassing state of the content being passed off as news by certain of the larger regional publishing groups with their over reliance on UGC copy and pastes of the public’s own social media content, the text speak hyperbole pushed out by seemingly untrained or inexperienced juniors,the top and tailing of PR handouts used to fill templates and the incessant repetition of old and generic, non local shared content used time and again under the guise of “in case you missed it “click bait
    Hyper locals have taken the markets and ad revenues by offering a truly hyper local news medium, many using very experienced and knowledgeable ex regional press staff to do so
    The public themselves will decide which medium to choose and which are “unnecessary” no one else

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  • March 25, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    “Not for profit”?
    All the hyper locals I know ARE for profit and good luck to them for being so
    Unlike the big boys the independents are making decent livings and providing work for ex regional journalists and commercial staff out of providing first class hyper local news to communities who were cut adrift by the established groups who assumed people would carry on buying papers which had lost their once strong connection with the public as they moved off in search of untold online riches, riches still unfound after two decades of trying by which time the audience had moved on.
    You can’t close district offices and cut out local reporters and expect the public to carry on buying your papers, the warnings were there but went unheeded so don’t complain how when he public see fit to support business who are located in and spend money with the local communities

    This is 2020, not 1980, the monopolies the traditional groups enjoyed and exploited for decades are over

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  • March 25, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    The small independent publisher isn’t “diverting ad streams from paid for brands “ the paid for brands have been steadily losing their ad revenues long before many of the new players emerged by being less effective and less appealing to local businesses.
    The fact the new competitors are attracting ad revenues by reaching the audiences and markets these business want to promote themselves to is due to their effectiveness in being a trusted local news provider.

    With regards to “… brands that actually provide our wages” remember that when the next round of job cuts come or the costs and overheads have to be reduced to offset further losses or when long serving, loyal staff are made redundancy being deemed as nothing more than one less FTE on the books, unless of course you’re one of those deciding who goes and who stays in which case I can understand your quote that any competitor is seen as a ‘ menace’

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  • March 25, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Hi @Localist

    The trouble is, if you’re going to “…close district offices and cut out local reporters” as @Anon says, you can’t blame entrepreneurial business people for funding experienced journalists,made redundant by one of the ailing main groups, for opening up hyper local community publications which have taken the market and are growing advertising revenues, they don’t have other parts of a business to prop them up and offset losses, they stand of fall by their relevance to their local communities.

    As Tony Hancock (almost ) said in The Blood donor” it may be a menace to you mate but it’s life and death and a living to some poor souls ”

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  • March 26, 2020 at 12:25 pm

    You have to laugh, it really does show you how things have changed. @localist is complaining of something that we used to call competition. Our rivals were something that we competed against to get the best stories and ensure we were relevant to our readers.

    Now I know that for many parts of the country that is over but really, it is your job to demonstrate just how important your product is. When you’ve done that the readers will use you as the source and the advertising will follow.

    Of course, if you work for an organisation that puts large numbers from anywhere before smaller numbers from the immediate locality than you can expect them to take the lion’s share of local advertising.

    In any case advertisers don’t live in a vacuum, they see and read the local paper/website like everyone else. If they think it’s no good and that their customers don’t read it, they won’t advertise.

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  • March 26, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    Exactly that Percy Hoskins
    Rather than seeing any competitor as a “menace”and arrogantly dismissing it as being “unnecessary” localist, wouldn’t it be far better to accept their presence and up your own game in order to compete?
    if the public see your own content and overall product as as being relevant, value for money and effective to advertiserin you’ve nothing to worry about.
    It’s because of this type of head in the clouds complacency by some of the high ups in the main regional press groups in believing they have a divine right to readers and advertisers, whilst allowing their own quality and product to erode, which has allowed these independent publications to launch, establish and thrive.

    With a monopoly you can do what you want and the end user has to either like it or lump it, not any longer, now there are choices and people will decide for themselves what’s unnecessary and what’s worth supporting and it’s very easy to see who are growing their audiences and advertising revenues and which are losing them,so if you’re confident in the quality of what your staff are putting out Localist, you’ve nothing to fear

    Competition is good, embrace it

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  • March 30, 2020 at 9:50 am

    What a sad state of affairs when @Localist – (ironic name there if ever there was one ) brands local competitor publications as “unnecessary and hopes they close.
    I’d suggest he looks at the sort of content his own brands are putting out then see if he considers it to be “ essential content”
    The public will decide what they feel is essential and what is just hyperbolic old news or lifted from the public’s own FB posts and used instead of professional journalism to fill space, achieve a click target or simply to attract clicks, goodness me he’ll be expecting the public to pay for content next!
    The public are supporting the hyper locals because they’re relevant to their own communities, these businesses are struggling but cut their cloth accordingly and are supported by those within who’s towns they’re investing ,something worth bearing in mind before branding them as “menaces”

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