THE National Union of Journalists’ “Local News Matters” campaign seems to have provoked an immediate response from publishers.
The chief executives of 24 regional publishing companies in the UK and Republic of Ireland signed an open letter placed as full page adverts in their papers this week by the 1XL advertising sales partnership.
The headline says: “UK’s regional publishers call on national advertisers to place their trust in local news brands”.
The timing of the full-page ads – just days after the NUJ’s high-profile campaign – is regarded as significant by some key activists.
The Local News Campaign targeted UK politicians – with a briefing to publish updated research about publishers’ continuing cuts to local titles – and a debate in Westminster.
The NUJ is calling for a parliamentary enquiry into the state of the industry.
The letter is also signed by Independent News and Media plc, a leading media group in the Republic of Ireland, where many local authorities last week formally backed the NUJ campaign.
However, the timing and wording of the letter – which has been circulating among journalists – have both raised further questions.
It says: “Our content is produced by thousands of trained and highly skilled local journalists who spent their days engaging with communities up and down the country through their coverage of the stories and events affecting their readers (sic) lives.”
Journalists chained to their desks copying-and-pasting press releases wonder what “engaging” means and, with newsrooms as far as 100 miles away from communities they are supposed to be covering, how “local” is local.
That those who approved the copy appear apostrophically challenged is a reminder of the importance of sub editors – and how the cull of so many sub-editors has affected the quality the publishers claim.
Similarly, journalists busy sharing material between titles wonder how much of this content can be “unique”.
1XL claims the titles it represents have a 70 per cent reach in towns and cities – doing little to assuage doubts about the role of regional publications in the UK’s rural communities.
Journalists noted several years ago that many online hits for titles covering South Wales were coming from the diaspora in Patagonia while the Yorkshire Post was attracting online interest from cricket fans around the world.
The 1XL copy also said: “Maintaining the integrity of our content and our advertising environment is fundamental to us and our local news brands have always scored extremely well for trust. This was validated by a recent Comscore survey of UK internet users – people said they trusted content on local news sites almost three times more than they did on social media.”
This then makes journalists and media commentators wonder why regional publishers have been demanding that so much time is spent feeding Facebook and Twitter.
The 1XL letter also seems to imply that publishers still have not realised that they have thrown away the monopoly revenue stream from many geographically-defined small and medium-sized service and retail enterprises for whom click-through advertising is impractical and not viable.
The NUJ should be heartened. While appearance of the 1XL advert may be no more than co-incidence, the timing and wording do suggest that the union has hit a nerve.
That the advert appeared in the name of the 1XL advertising partnership rather than the News Media Association trade body, headed by Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield, also elicited wry smiles from industry insiders.