Multi-million pound ad campaign, but nothing for the true local press

Philip Evans: My Isolation Diary – Day 32 (Saturday, April 18 2020)

IN yesterday’s diary I made mention of the huge amount of money the government is spending on their latest advertising campaign to persuade us all to continue to adhere to the lockdown restrictions whilst the fight against coronavirus continues.

This multi-million pound campaign is being spent on four-page advertising cover wraps in the national and regional daily press, those most critical of how the government is handling this contagion.

A lesser sum will then go to the regional weekly titles published by the bigger newspaper groups in the country.

On the front of the newspapers, the ad reads: “Stay at home for the NHS, your family, your neighbours, your nation, the world and life itself.”

On the back cover, there is a rainbow – the symbol of support for key workers during the fight against the pandemic – accompanied by the copy: “Staying at home for Britain.” Readers are being urged to this this as a poster to display in their window.

It is the first time that there has been a cover wrap across all news titles at the same time and the campaign is expected run for the next three months. It’s s significant win for the mainline press.

There was a time, not so long ago, when an editor of a national paper would never give up the front page for an advertisement, but such is the frailty of the newspaper industry these days, with continuing falling revenues, they are happy to grab whatever comes their way.

One sector of the publishing industry that won’t get a penny is the independent operators, many of whom are not-for-profit community projects, such as LymeOnline, or run by volunteers.

These are the newspapers and websites that serve small communities which no longer have a traditional local newspaper after the closure of hundreds in the last few years.

The independents are among the most vulnerable during these difficult times because we do not have the resources of the big publishers – papers and websites like LymeOnline. But from the government’s point of view, we clearly don’t exist.

LymeOnline has lost 90 per cent of its advertising revenue and have had to suspend our printed version until the restrictions are lifted but we are continuing for the moment with our digital edition. We were pleased with the response to our first emergency digital edition which attracted record views of more than 1,600 on our website.

Our second emergency edition went up on the LymeOnline website yesterday and is already attracting hundreds of hits. The digital pages are packed with photos and information of how Lyme is coping with the coronavirus epidemic.

We have also set up a special platform for all the information you need about COVID-19 and Francesca is presenting a weekly video bulletin to keep you all up to date.

With little or no advertising revenue coming in, we have also set up a way you can support your community newspaper with a donate button on the home page of our website. We are very grateful to those who have responded to this.

But it’s not only the minnows of the publishing world who are suffering. The Midweek Herald, a newspaper I launched in the 1980s, is also appealing for readers to support them with donations despite being owned by Archant, one of the leading local newspaper companies in the country which publishes four daily titles, 50 local newspapers and a number of consumer magazines.

They have a turnover in excess of £80 million, although they made a sizeable loss in their last published accounts.

Archant received millions of pounds in funding in 2019 from Google to search for a way to make local news pay online.

Asking readers to make donations is nothing new. The Guardian has been doing it with great success for some time. But the amounts received at a local level are not game-changers, no matter how grateful we are.

When a paper owned by a company like Archant appeals for cash donations, we know we’re in a sticky situation.

LymeOnline is a member of ICNN (The Independent Community News Network), representing independent news publishers across the country, fighting for better opportunities for us all.

The organisation was set up by Cardiff University and has already secured funding for their principality members from the Welsh parliament.

ICNN represents hyperlocal titles with a combined circulation of five million, and are now campaigning for similar support for all UK members, urging the government to provide support during these difficult days.

One of the positives to emerge from the fight against coronavirus is the manner in which the great British public respond during a crisis. Much has been written over the years about the great community spirit which saw this country deal with personal tragedy during Word War II and great comparisons are being made with what we are experiencing today.

No one was surprised when Lyme showed its caring side within days of the current crisis emerging, when Grace Herbert and Victoria Cottle setting up the Lyme Regis Commuity Support Group to ensure the town’s elderly and infirm were not forgotten. There has also been many examples of kindness throughout the town, one of which deserves recognition

Local chef Steven Batey, who runs Fossil Food Catering, and his staff launched a Crowdfunding initiative and are cooking meals every Thursday night for NHS frontline workers. This week members of the town’s lifeboat crew pitched in with donations and helped to deliver more than 100 meals.

Martin Luther King Jr once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

Lyme Regis has certainly answered that question.

Woodmead Halls

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