Getting the year 2022 off on a very positive note, a new survey revealing how much people trust home-grown local news is especially good news for many, if indeed not most of our Scottish-owned and Scottish-based daily newspaper publishers, small independent weeklies and community newspapers and magazines.
The survey reveals that almost six in 10 folk (58%) say they would trust a news organisation that is based locally covering local news in their area. By comparison, only 31% would not – making a handsome positive trust rating for home-grown news of 27%. By contrast, less than a third (31%) would trust a news organisation based outside their local area but producing local news within it. Some 55% declared they would not trust it – a significant negative trust rating of 24%.
The survey is especially good news for Scottish publishers such as the Dundee-headquartered DC Thomson group, whose clutch of newspapers include regional dailies The Press and Journal
(P&J) and The Courier
, and Inverness-based Highland News & Media Ltd, with 18 weekly newspapers serving the Highlands and Grampian including The Inverness Courier
, the John o'Groat Journal
in Caithness and The Northern Scot
However, I must emphasise that here I have chosen to select just as examples newspapers from two of our major indigenous publishers. A considerable number of our Scottish weekly newspapers satisfy the criteria of the main category in the survey including independents such as The Orcadian
, The Shetland Times
and The West Highland Free Press
. And the hyper-local not-for-profit publications such as the award-winning Greater Govanhill
community magazine in Glasgow.
In a detailed analysis of the survey, Press Gazette
reports that the weighted poll of 2,000 British adults was conducted by Opinium between 29 November and 2 December in 2021 for the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) – a charity which supports public interest news organisations through research, grants and leadership development.
Press Gazette reports: 'The local polls compare to a positive trust rating of 2% for national news organisations with 46% saying they trust them compared to 44% who don't'.
Jonathan Heawood, executive director of PINF and former chief executive of press regulator Impress, declares: 'The public have a marked preference for home-grown local news. This could explain why small independent news publishers are attracting large audiences in local areas across the UK.
'And it should encourage policymakers and funders to build the capacity of these genuinely local publishers who urgently need investment to capitalise on their trusting relationships with their audiences.'
The survey also reveals that people would be willing to pay on average £1.30 per month for a quality, independent local news service. Four in 10 said they would not be willing to pay at all but 43% would be willing to pay something.
Some 15% said they would pay between £1 and £1.99 each month, while 12% would pay between £2 and £4.99 and 3% would pay more than this. PINF says that these results should 'provide some encouragement' to local publishers hoping to attract reader revenue.
Press Gazette adds: 'Younger people were more likely to appreciate the importance of paying for news, with 18 to 34-year-olds willing to pay an average of £2 per month compared to £1.20 for 35 to 54-year-olds and 90p for 55-and-overs. A fifth of younger people said they would pay between £1 and £1.99 compared to 13% of over-55s'.
Matt Abbott, deputy director of the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) which represents more than 100 hyper-local publishers, points out: 'Communities are constantly fighting to have their voices heard in a landscape dominated by London-based media. As local newspapers centralise their newsrooms in content rooms
two or three counties away, they leave behind the trust of their audiences.
'Audiences feel isolated, ignored and misrepresented. However, this survey has shown that audiences respond positively to local news that is produced by journalists who are embedded in their communities: who can provide nuance, accountability, lived experience and ultimately better journalism.'
The survey also asked whether public money should be used to support local news as many publishers continue to find it more difficult to raise sufficient revenue through advertising.
Some 42% of respondents said public money should not be used to support local news, while 29% said it should. Younger people were again more open to the idea, with 35% backing the use of public money compared to 25% of over-55s.
The PINF has previously produced research showing the broken link between reach and revenue with its findings that, for example, a grouping of 56 independent publishers reach 10 million people but earn a total of only £5.4 million between them all.
Very interestingly, especially for media pundits like myself, readers of Aberdeen's Evening Express
have indicated that they wish their newspaper to be 'less tabloid' and 'more thoughtful' in tone. Their views emerged in recent research and were revealed in an article in the evening newspaper by its former deputy editor, Richard Prest, who is now head of content development at Dundee publisher DC Thomson which owns the Evening Express
and its sister paper The P&J.
Richard told media industry website HoldTheFrontPage
that he would 'try and deliver' on the survey's results and recalled previous campaigns fought by the newspaper, including opposing Aberdeenshire Council's decision 15 years ago to reject former US President Donald Trump's plan for a golf resort at Balmedie, near Aberdeen, after the Evening Express
'took the temperature of its readers and found they were massively in favour of the plan going ahead'.
Richard explained: 'Any claim that [the Evening Express
] did so because it was being swayed by big business or other matters is wrong. Its readers had expressed their feelings on the matter and the newspaper acted accordingly,' tellingly pointing out: 'I should know. I was deputy editor at the time'.
He noted that 'the public and the media have both changed' in the 15 years since that decision, adding: 'Our own most recent research shows our audiences still want our titles to fight for North-East Scotland but they also want a better understanding of the other side
and why it might hold a contrary view. They also want a change in tone: less tabloid and more thoughtful. They have expressed their views and that is what we will try to deliver'.
The former leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson, who was a BBC Scotland journalist before entering the political arena, has relinquished her weekly column in a top-selling Sunday newspaper.
Ruth, 43, who was a Scottish MSP from 2011 to 2021, and, as a newly-created life peer, now sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links, told her readers: 'After two and a half years, dozens of columns, hundreds of stories and thousands of words, my time as a Scottish Mail on Sunday
columnist has come to an end. I have loved being able to share my take on current events, along with my geekish enjoyment of Strictly, Bake Off
and space travel. But having changed parliament, job, house and town in the past year, my commitments have changed too, and something had to give. I will miss my weekly connection with readers, but I hope to be back every now and again to scratch the journalistic itch'.
As a media junkie, I must admit to considerable respect and admiration for the professionalism of the UK's current coterie of political journalists in both newspapers and broadcasting. And Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor and the first female to hold that post, is right up there at the top of the pile. I am really disappointed that she will be relinquishing her post at Easter. She explains she will instead be taking on 'a range of news and current affairs projects across TV, radio and online'.
Laura, 45, told us: 'I'll miss the daily drama, and our wonderful team in Westminster, immensely. But after nearly seven years and what feels like decades worth of headlines, it's time for the next move'.
She has also been a regular presenter on Brexitcast
, now known as Newscast
, alongside BBC colleagues Chris Mason, Adam Fleming and Katya Adler since 2017. This late-night TV programme is incisive, informative and very entertaining, and I try and catch it whenever I can.
The daughter of international businessman Nick Kuenssberg, Laura was born in Rome but grew up in Glasgow. After graduating with a first-class honours degree from Edinburgh University, she studied journalism at Georgetown University in Washington DC, where she spent some time as an intern with NBC News, before returning to Scotland to work in local radio and cable television in Glasgow.
She joined BBC North East and Cumbria in 2000 as a trainee journalist – the first step on a glittering career which has been wholly with the BBC save for a spell at ITV News as its business editor from 2011-2013.
Laura comes from illustrious stock. Her paternal grandfather, Dr Ekkehard von Kuenssberg, was the German-born founder and president of the Royal College of General Practitioners, while her mother Sally's father was the much-loved Scotland High Court judge Lord Robertson. Laura is married to management consultant James Kelly and the couple have a home in East Lothian.
BBC director-general Tim Davie declared: 'Laura has been an outstanding BBC political editor throughout the most turbulent political times in living memory. Her incisive commentary, tough questioning and astute insight have guided our audiences through the last seven years. She's a superb interviewer and engaging presenter, and I'm thrilled that we are keeping her on our screens and airwaves. I'm looking forward to her next chapter'.
Richard Neville has stepped down as head of newspapers at the DC Thomson media conglomerate but will continue to be involved with the company in an advisory role – mainly for The Sunday Post
. Meantime, he says he is looking for opportunities in media consultancy, newsroom change and digital transformation – 'and anything else that comes my way'.
He said: 'I am extremely proud of the transformation of DC Thomson's newsrooms but the time is right to expand my horizons as the DCT team move on to the next phase of their transformation'.
Also on the move is Stephen Emerson, commercial editor in Scotland for JPIMedia, owner of The Scotsman
, Scotland on Sunday
, the Edinburgh Evening News
and a number of Scottish weekly titles. Stephen is joining Black Ox, publishers of The Business Magazine
, based in Guildford, Surrey, as head of content.