Fight continues to keep independent press afloat during COVID

save independent newsTHE fight to ensure independent news outlets such as LymeOnline survive the coronavirus pandemic have continued as many areas of the UK head into a second lockdown. 

The Independent Community News Network (ICNN), of which LymeOnline is a member, has been campaigning on behalf of the independent media sector throughout the pandemic.

In particular, it has been encouraging the government to roll-out its public health advertising campaigns to its members, which reach 15million people online every month and have a collective print run of over 426,000. Most have not received a penny of government support during the pandemic.

The ICNN recently attended a roundtable event with a representative of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), which was also attended by major news organisations Reach, JPIMedia, Verizon, the NUJ, the Guardian, the NMA and News UK.

 Giving a speech at the event, a representative for the ICNN said: “As happened during the first national lockdown, local restrictions threaten to undermine the already fragile sustainability of the independent news sector. Not all local businesses have managed to recover from the first wave – and many of those that have are not in a financial position to continue their pre-COVID levels of advertising spend. 

“For the independent sector, which relies more heavily on local businesses rather than large multinationals and big brands advertising with them, this makes for a dire situation.

“Over the last six months, independent news providers have logged record levels of traffic to their websites. Audiences are flocking to their local papers in search of up-to-date, locally relevant information on the pandemic. But while this is a positive development, the increase in costs from such a spike in traffic has concerned many. 

“In addition, 95 per cent of independent news providers still haven’t benefitted from a single government measure to support the newspaper industry. This includes access to the ‘all-in, all together’ public health campaign, the second phase of the public health campaign, ‘Hands, Face Space’, and the not entirely relevant, but equally vital at this time – EU Transition Brief: ‘Check, Change, Go’. 

“However, with barely a shred of government support, independent news sites have produced tens of thousands of articles on the coronavirus, held power to account, collaborated on national investigations, celebrated excellence in their communities, and mourned with those who’ve lost friends and family.

“Journalism Matters week – a campaign supported by her Majesty the Queen – highlighted the excellent work being done by the independent sector. Many independent editors and journalists were nominated for the Public Interest News List. 

“The sector can no longer be viewed as peripheral; it is now an essential part of the news ecosystem.

“The combined reach of the independent news sector in the UK has been discussed here before but it is worth repeating. Simply, it is vast with several hundred professional publications reaching more than 15million people online every month; and with a collective print run of half a million.

“So the question must be asked. Where is the support?

“Despite clear government directives that the ‘Hands, Face, Space’ campaign should be run on digital, and the ‘Check, Change, Go’ campaign in community media channels, not one of ICNN’s 124 members have been granted access. 

“Our discussions with the government’s media buying agency OmniGov have ground to a halt – they simply refuse to engage with us beyond requesting ads in the one weekly printed title we represent. Our questions regarding the future of the campaign, the government directives on where the ads should be placed are met with reticence at best, silence at the worst.

Publications have closed, citing the lack of government support, specifically the lack of public health campaign revenue as the direct cause.  

In short, over the past few months, the situation has only deteriorated for the independent news sector.

Our recent emails to DCMS and to OmniGov highlighting these issues and requesting a meeting to discuss the delay in getting independent titles, specifically ICNN members, access to the campaigns have gone unanswered.

We would like to resubmit our request to have this discussion. The lack of access to these campaigns could be the difference between these publications surviving the winter, or collapsing like dominos – which would have a catastrophic effect on livelihoods, media plurality, local communities, and local democracy. 

The Cabinet Office, which oversees the ad campaigns will be made aware of concerns.”

Please support LymeOnline

LymeOnline is a not-for-profit, independent, family-run community venture that relies solely on advertising revenue and sponsorship to cover its costs. As the pandemic took hold in March, we lost 90% of our advertising revenue and, as a result, had to temporarily stop printing our free, fortnightly newspaper.

During lockdown we increased our online presence and kept the community up to date with the latest coronavirus developments and how they were affecting our local community.

In August, we were able to relaunch our printed newspaper after a 20-week hiatus, thanks to grants from the Google News Initiative, Dorset Council and donations from our loyal readers – we thank you all.

But these are still testing times; since relaunching our advertising revenues are down 50% compared to pre-COVID times and we need your continued support to ensure we can continuing giving Lyme Regis the news coverage it deserves.

To find out how you can support LymeOnline, visit the Support Us page or you can make a secure donation to LymeOnline via PayPal by clicking the yellow ‘Donate’ button on our homepage.

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