A survey of its newsletter subscribers by media industry website, Press Gazette
, aimed at establishing how the coronavirus pandemic is hitting news media professionals, reveals that a third fear severe financial impact and even bankruptcy or insolvency if the current situation continues for three months. A further 34% also expect to see negative financial impact during that period, although less drastic, and, explains the website: 'Just 6% and 10% of respondents shared a positive or minimal impact outlook respectively'.
It points out: 'Many of the responses painted a bleak picture of how the impact of the shutdown is affecting businesses from news agencies, local newspapers and B2B websites to freelance journalists'. Those who answered included reporters (30%), editors and news editors (30%), and chief executives/company owners (10%).
One freelance broadcast journalist said the impact of three months of lockdown would mean they will 'probably be homeless'. Others used words such as 'drastic', 'disastrous', and 'dicey'. Five, including those from news agencies, B2B and media analysis businesses, specifically warned that they were at risk of going bust in that time.
adds: 'One editor at a small news and features agency in England said: "[There is] only one story in town which is devastating for a small agency like ourselves". Another agency news editor said they have fewer stories to sell to newspapers, adding their revenues will "shrink, and depending on our clients' ability to make money, could be catastrophic if they start cutting fixed rates"'.
quotes Gavin van Marle, founder and managing editor of supply chain and logistics industries B2B website, The Loadstar
, as saying: 'We have been absolutely overwhelmed with stories for the last six weeks [and] also inundated with requests for interview from broadcasters and national newspapers. But at the same time the huge decline of advertising revenue on which we largely depend has left us very financially vulnerable'. He added: 'If it goes on for more than three months, supply chains will be turned upside down: it will mean more readers for us but we will also probably be heading towards insolvency'.
Some 40% of respondents said they had launched, or were planning to launch, a new product or service in response to the crisis. These included coronavirus-specific live blogs and landing pages online, a magazine restructuring to focus on taking a more upbeat tone and highlight home-based activities, new video features, webinars to partially offset lost events revenue, and introducing free website access.
Despite widespread recognition that local newspapers are playing an 'absolute vital' role throughout the pandemic, many have been badly hit by the financial implications, reports media website HoldTheFrontPage
). The UK's first employee-owned newspaper – the West Highland Free Pres
s weekly newspaper, based on the Isle of Skye – is among a number of regional press titles to reveal they have temporarily ceased publication. The website reports that the West Highland Free Press
announced the measure in a front page editorial, in which it said the decision had been taken with 'great reluctance and sorrow'. It aims to resume publication on 5 June and will have a 'limited online presence' in the interim.
Its editorial added: 'That causes us immense sadness. But it also makes us determined to pick up the reins again, with renewed vigour, when circumstances allow. Whatever the future holds, one aspect of life that must endure is the role played by strong community journalism. We believe that good reporting and writing, borne out of empathy and curiosity, will always be in demand.
'When the Free Press
returns, we will need your support more than ever to ensure our own modest contribution. We are not part of a large media group. We are a small team with limited financial means; the only employee-owned newspaper in the UK... We are you – queuing in the Co-op, watching shinty, driving along the same pot-holed roads. In every sense of the term, we are your local newspaper. Until we meet again in the near future, stay safe, and look after each other.'
Interestingly, Brian Wilson, the founding editor and publisher of the West Highland Free Press
, advocates in his weekly column in The Scotsman
that Scotland should emulate New Zealand, and also hits out at how the Scottish Government's current daily media conferences are run. His freelance journalism endeavours all include a column in the Press and Journal's
supplement and occasional assignments for various other publications.
Brian writes: 'We are always being told about the great things small countries do and Scotland could if only…. blah, blah, blah. Yet there is zero interest in applying good examples within existing powers. Take New Zealand's approach to informing the public about COVID-19. With Government support, its Parliament created a committee, chaired by an opposition MP, with powers to call any minister and cross-examine on live television. That's what you call scrutiny and it works.
'Here, at the daily briefings, a Scottish Government apparatchik (literally) controls the mute button in case any journalist tries to ask a follow-up question. All the changes in direction have been forced by external campaigns, mostly through the print media. That was true of the pressure which achieved a partial climb-down on business grants. (I don't suppose we'll ever know where the £120 million was destined for otherwise). It also applied to revelations about deaths in care homes and the focus on PPE.
'But then look at the damaging confusion over whether businesses should be trying to operate while observing necessary precautions. I heard Richard Lochhead MSP supporting – rightly – the decision by Walkers [Shortbread], an excellent employer in his constituency, to re-open not least because competitors had never shut. If you look closely, regulations are the same in Scotland as in the rest of the UK. Only the rhetoric is different, hence alarm and confusion. In New Zealand, that would have been sorted within 24 hours and every business would know where it stood.'
Brian is chairman of Harris Tweed Hebrides and an adviser to the UK Board of Trade, and was made a CBE in the New Year Honours List for services to charity and to businesses in Scotland. He points out: 'Here, any journalist trying to pin down a definitive answer in the interests of employers and workers would fall victim to the mute button. Please, can we be more like New Zealand?'.
I wonder if the media, generally, is getting carried away in featuring people whom are really 'non-heroes' in the battle with COVID-19 (if we must use that metaphor). Do these people include Captain Tom Moore who, fine lad he is at 99, is attracting folk to part with one helluva amount of cash for the NHS Charities Together? Television is probably the worst offender, with ITV's Good Morning Britain
especially to blame, with its presenter Piers Morgan flamboyantly, and to me, distastefully, proclaiming on his own programme that he has donated £10,000 (around the average wage of a care worker) to Captain Moore's appeal.
My unease is perhaps reflected by Elizabeth Day in her weekly column in the Mail on Sunday's
. She wrote that in viewing Netflix's Tiger King
, she kept thinking she was missing something, yet '... if everyone else was obsessed with it, what was wrong with me that I couldn't see the point? It's strange to feel so out of step with the majority, especially when we're currently looking for things to connect us in our socially-isolated existences'.
She continued: 'It sometimes seems as if we're living in a time of overly enthusiastic perception, where the quality of the object itself is less important than the reaction it creates, so the fact that something generates memes and social-media mentions becomes validation of its merit. But just because something prompts a reaction doesn't make it good'.