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19 August 2021

Faure Walker: Pandemic Has Reaffirmed Importance Of Local News

The pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of trusted local news and information but the business of local news provision remains challenging, News Media Association chairman Henry Faure Walker has said.

In a piece in the FT on local news, publishers spoke of the rise in digital audiences as people turned to local news during the pandemic, but cautioned that the problem of finding a sustainable model for local news remained.

“Covid has acted as a catalyst for people turning to trusted local news,” Mr Faure Walker said. “Towns and cities that were commuter towns and lost a lot of residents Monday to Friday, that population has now been staying local.”

But, although the outlook had become more encouraging, he added: “I think it’s too early to say that a sustainable model has been arrived at for local news.”

Lorna Tilbian, chair of Dowgate Capital, agreed. “How do you get to know your community? The local paper tells you a lot of what’s going on,” she said.

Reach plc chief executive Jim Mullen said that audiences for the publisher had increased during the pandemic leading to an increase in digital revenues.

Executive chairman of National World plc David Montgomery cautioned that the industry still faces severe headwinds. 

Even with rising digital audiences, the main problem remains — online publishing simply does not enjoy the same profit margins as those of print equivalents, while print sales still account for the bulk of revenues for regional news providers, the FT reported.

News publishers, including JPI Media, Reach and Newsquest, have reached agreements with Google and Facebook to receive undisclosed payouts, which for smaller groups have been non-negotiable.

“It’s helpful,” said Faure Walker, “but it’s a bad deal given how much local journalism contributes to the digital ecosystem.”