Journalism researchers expect more local news titles to launch in 2022 – but have also warned further office closures may be on the way.
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is predicting an increase in the number of “low-cost reader-focused start-ups” over the coming year in its annual report on the state of the industry.
However, the Institute, based at the University of Oxford, has also shared its expectation that publishers will follow the lead of companies such as Archant and Reach plc in closing more newspaper offices over the next 12 months.
Predicting growth in the independent news sector, the report published today cited examples such as the Manchester Mill and its Sheffield Tribune sister title as a new business model that could be followed elsewhere.
In the report, senior research associate Nic Newman wrote: “At a local level, we can expect to see the growth of low-cost reader-focused start-ups this year, built on newsletter platforms like Substack, which help take out technology and infrastructure costs.
“The Manchester Mill, which launched during the height of Covid lockdowns, has generated almost 1,000 paying subscriptions at £7 a month in the last year for a mix of slow journalism delivered mainly by newsletter. A certain amount of free content gives it a much wider readership and there is now an offshoot in print.
“Super users engage with the editorial team on a Facebook group providing ideas for stories. And there is a podcast too.
“A sister title, the Sheffield Tribune has gained around 300 subscribers and a third, The Post, has just launched covering Liverpool.”
The study featured 246 participants from across the world, with almost a quarter of respondents being UK-based.
Nic, pictured, went on to predict that hybrid working arrangements would “become the norm” for journalists in 2022, adding he would “expect to see more publishers closing offices entirely, or at least moving in that direction” by the year’s end.
He also predicted there would be a “greater focus on mental health” from publishers as a result of these changes.
Archant revealed last month it was set to close all but four of its 12 offices in the wake of the post-Covid shift towards home working, while earlier last year Reach closed all but 15 of its offices including regional daily newsrooms such as those of the Derby Telegraph, Leicester Mercury and Cambridge News.
Nic wrote: “In the UK, regional publisher Reach has closed 75pc of its offices, turning staff into remote workers, while another publisher, Archant, is closing two-thirds of its offices by March 2022, arguing that home working is now the preferred option for most employees.
“This risks undermining company culture but may be more equitable than hybrid environments, where ‘proximity bias’ can favour those prepared to show their face in the office every day.
“Hybrid working will also require clearer rules, better training, and a new literacy for both managers and staff.”
He added: “While home working has been a boon for many, others have found the experience extremely challenging. To help counter isolation, UK regional publisher Reach has organised online book and film clubs, and social cook-alongs.
“Staff also get a free subscription to a mindfulness app (Headspace), an online wellness hub, as well as access to psychological counselling if needed.
“Expect to see other publishers to adopt these approaches in 2022 and provide extra training for managers on how to support staff effectively.