Government Subsidies For Local Newspapers?

Government subsidies for the local press? Government encouraged or supported community media trusts? Of course, my American libertarian friends would throw their hands up in horror at such ideas. But UK Conservative MP Louise Mensch is pushing the government to do such things.

Mensch is worried rightly about the consequences of the decline in the UK of the local press and what it means for local government accountability and democracy. She wants a serious review and is calling on the government to introduce subsidies and tax advantages for local newspapers.

And she has a point about trying to create a level playing field for local newspapers. The country is awash with local Pravda-type propaganda newsheets put out by local authorities and financed by council taxpayers. Local newspapers have to compete also with regional BBC television, again funded by the public.

Britain’s local press is dominated by a handful of newspapers groups — Johnston Press, Newsquest and Northcliffe. And they have been slashing away at their properties. Newsquest’s ownership of the Herald Group in Glasgow has been nothing short of a disaster and both the Glasgow Herald and the Sunday Herald are pain shadows of what they once were. Johnstone has failed to revive the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Down south there have staff cuts, papers getting thinner or being shifted from daily publication to weekly.

Of course, in these straitened times the big newspaper groups have suffered dramatic falls in advertising revenue and huge drops in profits. But there has been a marked lack of thought and creativity by managements as well.

Citizen journalism isn’t filling the gap.

So would government subsides bring government control? That doesn’t have to be the case. And there are examples of where it has worked — in Italy for instance.

 

 

UK Newspapers Take a Pounding

The UK’s national newspaper circulations fell badly in September. The Guardian and Independent fell 9.7 per cent and 15.6 per cent year on year respectively. But the biggest loser among the quality dailies was my old paper The Times, down 10.4 per cent. Despite its international brand name, the Independent has a circulation way below 200,000. Is it time it followed the example of the Christian Science Monitor – namely, be exclusively an online product and focus solely on international news? When is it going to close its sister Sunday newspaper, a paper that adds little to its brand and doesn’t help with the finances?

The circulations for the once excellent indigenous Scottish qualities make for grim reading. Another one of my old papers, Scotland on Sunday, twice the UK newspaper of the year, has seen its circulation halved in less than a decade. Both the Scotsman and the Herald are selling fewer copies than some major regional English dailies. Andrew Neil did not help the commercial cause of the Scotsman Group when the Barclays Brothers were the owners: telling the Scots they are a miserable lot and should be more like the English tends not to boost newspaper sales over the border. But, of course, it is not all Neil’s fault: the Internet reaper is doing its bits in Scotland, too. Clearly the only way forward for the Herald and Scotsman Groups is somehow to bridge the west-east cultural divide in Scotland and to merge.