Why newspapers and local media must be safeguarded – Tracy Brabin

IN just a month, our way of life has changed dramatically and in just about every way imaginable.

Tracy Brabin is the Shadow Culture Minister and MP for Batley & Spen.

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Yet, go to a shop and there will still be the daily newspapers, both national and local available to buy.

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And if you put on the radio, it’s likely that your local station, with the local presenter you’ve come to know well, will be broadcasting.

Boris Johnson during his visit to The Yorkshire Post last September - should the Government be doing more to support local newspapers?

These local stations and outlets haven’t miraculously avoided any Covid-19 upheaval – the very opposite in fact.

Right now, many are going the extra mile and taking steps that would have been written off as impossible weeks ago in order to make sure we have something to listen to – or can keep up to date with what is happening in our communities.

These efforts have seen local journalists going above and beyond to report an accurate picture of what is happening on their patch and radio presenters live from their spare rooms, equipped with a laptop, microphone and towels to dampen the sound.

And while we thank all of the institutions and individuals who have worked so hard to keep the show on the road thus far, it’s becoming ever clearer than our local media are going to need some increased help if they are to be with us throughout this crisis.

We have some incredible local newspapers here in Yorkshire from local titles such as the Batley News to city papers such as the Huddersfield Examiner or Sheffield Star right up to the Yorkshire Evening Post and The Yorkshire Post – the county’s national newspaper.

Our precious media institutions such as these are often kept afloat by the communities that they serve. The bread and butter for advertising are local businesses, shops, estate agents and car retailers. These businesses are now closed and media outlets are seeing their advertising revenue fall off a cliff.

Recently we have heard reports of staff being furloughed at major local news publishers, Newsquest, JPI Media and Reach, and those being retained being asked to take pay cuts.

However, for many journalists and reporters, their work is a vocation. They are dedicated to the story. And Covid-19 is quite the story. They want to report it, and in order to report it, they need publications and outlets.

As the days and weeks go by, I’m concerned that the transmitters could be switched off and the printing press closed down in some parts of the country if the national economic crisis deepens.

That would leave a devastating hole in the media for those who rely on it as a trustworthy source of news. Once they have closed, my fear is many may never be able to spring back.

They need help – and the Government to creatively use their resources to support outlets during this difficult time.

On one hand we have a Government that has a lot of important public information to advertise, and on the other, we have trusted news outlets that right now have a lot of recently freed up space for advertising.

They should prioritise using their budget to support media institutions and work with local outlets to build advertising campaigns. I was encouraged to see the Government buying front and back page adverts with local papers earlier this month, but it can’t be a one- off.

These campaigns need to be medium term so outlets can plan with increased confidence, not just one edition, but papers for the weeks and months ahead.

A number of businesses are currently entitled to a 100 per cent business rate holiday. It makes sense that this should be extended to news publishers.

The National Union of Journalists have issued suggestions that deserve consideration, including a windfall tax of six per cent on the tech giants towards funding a News Recovery Plan, tax credits and interest free loans to support jobs and free vouchers for online or print subscriptions to all 18-and-19-year olds.​

All of these steps are pragmatic and are aimed at helping local media outlets serving our communities, which is what we want them to do, in these difficult circumstances.

The path ahead is one that is going to be a hard and uncertain one for millions of individuals and business, and while it may seem unimaginable now, there will be a time after Covid-19.

The Government needs to ensure that at that point we still have a local media sector – ready to flourish again – even if that involves thinking creatively in the short term.

Tracy Brabin is the Labour MP for Batley & Spen. She is also a Shadow Culture Minister.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

Almost certainly you are here because you value the quality and the integrity of the journalism produced by The Yorkshire Post’s journalists - almost all of which live alongside you in Yorkshire, spending the wages they earn with Yorkshire businesses - who last year took this title to the industry watchdog’s Most Trusted Newspaper in Britain accolade.

And that is why I must make an urgent request of you: as advertising revenue declines, your support becomes evermore crucial to the maintenance of the journalistic standards expected of The Yorkshire Post. If you can, safely, please buy a paper or take up a subscription. We want to continue to make you proud of Yorkshire’s National Newspaper but we are going to need your help.

Postal subscription copies can be ordered by calling 0330 4030066 or by emailing [email protected] Vouchers, to be exchanged at retail sales outlets - our newsagents need you, too - can be subscribed to by contacting subscriptions on 0330 1235950 or by visiting www.localsubsplus.co.uk where you should select The Yorkshire Post from the list of titles available.