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Titles serving medium-sized towns risk ‘going to the wall’, publisher warns

Henry Faure WalkerLocal news titles – particularly those serving medium-sized towns – risk “going to the wall” without further government support, a publishing boss has warned.

Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker has issued the warning to ministers after regional publishers united to call for greater intervention from Westminster to aid the industry.

Companies including Newsquest, Reach plc, the Midland News Association and Baylis Media have rallied behind proposals set out by trade body the News Media Association to help secure the short-term future of local titles across the country.

The NMA is demanding action from the Government including a package of “targeted, short-term financial measures to support local publishers’ transition to digital-first business models”.

Such a package would include extending local newspaper business rate relief, and introducing new tax reliefs for journalism and advertising.

The proposal has been made in a submission to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the sustainability of local journalism, which was announced in February.

Other proposals made by the NMA include a legal requirement for large technology platforms to negotiate with publishers over payment for content, maintaining the statutory obligation to place public notices in printed local newspapers

It has also called for an expansion of the Local News Partnership between commercial publishers and the BBC.

In a submission issued on behalf of Newsquest, Henry, pictured, noted the group now has 50,000 paying digital subscribers across its portfolio.

He wrote: “The long-term prospects from this growing digital momentum are encouraging but the current headwinds are very strong.

“Short term support is required by Government now to assist local news publishers in fulfilling their sustainable digital transition; particularly if Government wishes to avoid the prospect of many local news titles, particularly in medium-sized towns across the UK, and the infrastructure that supports that, going to the wall – with a subsequent negative impact on community engagement and local democracy.”

“Local journalism is at a critical juncture. It can have a vibrant, independent future in the UK, but the Government needs to lean in now and provide more support.”

In its submission, Reach touched on the 2019 Cairncross Review into the future of news provision in the UK, in which Dame Frances Cairncross recommended the launch of a new body to oversee ‘public interest news’ which would be independent of the media industry.

“One recommendation where there is remaining mileage is the extension of the Local Democracy Reporting Scheme.

“While councils are largely now well-served by the resource funded by the first phase of this scheme, there is a great deal of potential for other public bodies and public sector organisations to be scrutinised and investigated – a version of the Institute for Public Interest News principle that was articulated in the original report.”