We’ll lose local news more quickly than we think unless politicians act soon
Prompt action must be taken following the publication of the Cairncross Report to protect highly trusted local news brands which “simply cannot compete” with the tech giants who invest nothing in the communities served by local media, Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson has said.
Speaking in Westminster to the Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire All-Party Parliamentary Group, Mr Mitchinson told MPs that more had to be done if local news — including the £6m a year JPIMedia spends on journalism in Yorkshire — was to survive. Here is his speech:
Good evening. First of all, I would like to say thank you to our All Party Parliamentary Group for affording me the privilege of speaking to you today, and may I take this opportunity to thank the APPG for all of the work it does on behalf of those it serves.
When I was asked to address this room, the brief was for me to talk about the role I see The Yorkshire Post playing in the county and the region. For this, it is useful for me to turn to someone else whose observations made in the House of Commons chime squarely with my intended editorial strategy.
On 6th November, 2017 — in Hansard Volume 630, column 1274 it reads, in relation to serial failures on the railway in the North:
…the reality is that in recent times we seem to have hit the buffers. The Transport Secretary recently told the Yorkshire Post that it was not his responsibility to invest in Yorkshire’s railways. That came shortly after he unilaterally cancelled electrification projects planned for some of the busiest train routes in the country outside London. This is but one example of the stark inequalities that exist between the transport infrastructure of different regions of our country, a point that has been very effectively made by the Yorkshire Post which has long campaigned on these issues and which, under the editorship of James Mitchinson, has been a powerful voice not just for Yorkshire and the Humber, but for the North more generally.
Dan Jarvis, MP
That was Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis speaking, and in a nutshell, this has been my motivation since taking up the editorship of The Yorkshire Post in 2016. To be a force for good for Yorkshire and, as a proud northerner myself, the North more generally.
The highlight of my time leading The Yorkshire Post came in relation to this very subject: that being, the scandalous dereliction of Ministerial duty in the wake of the calamitous disintegration — after years and years of neglect and underinvestment — of rail services in the North of England.
By taking a magnanimous, collegiate and diplomatic approach — something which the general public is craving of This Place at the moment, if we’re honest — editors across the North showed that which can be achieved when partisan priorities and tribalist barriers are set to one side for the greater good.
Thirty newspapers — some of them age-old rivals (Lancashire and Yorkshire — agreeing on something, would you believe!?) all on the same day, all carrying the same call to arms penned in the offices of The Yorkshire Post — hewn from the hearts of journalists who were impacted — along with thousands of other people — simply looking to get to and from work or play. Enough was enough, we bellowed.
That day, June 5th 2018 our collective broadside sat atop the national news agenda (second slot on R4 Today throughout the programme … I’m not sure what has to happen in the North for us to take top spot on the nation’s morning briefing!) Market research estimates that particular message, given all of the sustained media coverage, reached around 10m people. I’d like to think — on this day especially, given it is the Transport Secretary’s birthday — that we were heard by the DFT.
Humour me a moment whilst I share some numbers with you. Numbers which may come as a surprise to you, if you believe everything you’re told about the so-called decline of the regional Press.
- The three daily newspapers and 25 weekly newspapers for which I’m responsible sell around 350,000 copies per week.
- Because they are passed on several times and enjoyed by people other than those who paid for them, our print audience is JICREG audited at closer to three quarters of a million people per week;
- The online portfolio for which I am editorially responsible attracts 0.5m Unique Users per DAY who consume over 1m PVs per DAY;
- The budget — staff and freelance — for which I am responsible on behalf of JPIMedia — if you like, the level of investment in journalism, in content, in campaigns, in investigations, in specialist talent — like our cartoonist, for example — is north of £6m, employing 140 journalists right across Yorkshire and indeed two in the city of London covering Westminster affairs and City trading.
In other words, despite all of the — at times — debilitating headwinds coming from those digital juggernauts with which we simply cannot compete (you all know who they are and they certainly don’t put over £6m into the pockets of people living in and around Yorkshire) we remain as relevant and important to the families who live in the communities we serve as we have ever been.
And I believe that relevance is down to the fact that people trust what we do. The Yorkshire Post — since 1754 — has traded on its integrity and its commitment to the highest possible standards of journalism, for the betterment of the county. Industry trust analysis released last week by PAMCo puts The Yorkshire Post as the single most trusted news brand in the country, ahead of The Guardian by two percentage points. One trifles with that at one’s peril.
Take, by way of just one example of the myriad campaigns The Yorkshire Post has run over the years, our sustained commitment over the last five years to highlighting the insidiously crushing effects that loneliness is having on those stricken by this affliction. When this campaign launched, loneliness carried the stigma of being the preserve of those in their twilight years with little to offer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Yorkshire Post could not have chosen a less razzmatazz subject if it tried. This issue is certainly not one likely to shift thousands of extra copy sales nor — as certain types of clickbait might, drive millions of web hits — but that is precisely why newspapers like those for which I am responsible must survive and thrive in the digital age.
That this campaign was borne out of understanding our readership; understanding the pressures of modern life and wanting to do something constructive about this destructive hidden epidemic is precisely why we have played a part in Yorkshire life for hundreds of years.
Recklessly chasing the cheap digital dollars which protrude from the crevices of electronic voyeurism — that which is the stock-in-trade for some online publishers — is not a place I want to be.
We will remain true to the DNA of The Yorkshire Post and remain faithful to the journalistic oath. To do anything less risks us becoming part of the omnipresent white noise of fakery and spin that is luring society towards division and hatred.
An uninformed place where people are isolated from one another, disconnected from their communities and from society and — crucially — set against the Establishment.
Ladies and gentlemen I was pleased Dame Frances Cairncross underscored how important local and regional newspapers are in helping to connect people together and bind communities to give them a sense of informed identity and purpose.
But if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose them and quicker than you might imagine if we don’t solve the current conundrum quickly.
I’ll finish off with a ditty from a senior Channel 4 media executive who took time out to address a dinner held in Leeds after the inaugural Great Northern Conference which was designed and delivered by The Yorkshire Post in conjunction with our friends at the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. We were discussing exactly this; trust and integrity in pursuit of quality. We both agreed that even if the current business model underpinning journalism built on trust: built on doing the right thing for the right reasons — using skill and compassion in equal measure — is challenged, our faith in quality will prevail. Trust is sacrosanct — more so now than ever before — and one way or another that which the likes of The Yorkshire Post and Channel 4 News do must be protected, cherished, preserved and enhanced.
That exec, I know she won’t mind me saying, was Lynette Huntley, Chief of Staff for Channel 4. She told me that she had recently been to Silicon Valley to observe next-generation technologies likely to sustain future media business models — all business models, perhaps — where algorithmic artificial intelligence is the zeitgeist. She proffered to the technologists that some of that which they have created could be — in the wrong hands — dangerous.
Their response: we are merely the arms dealers. What people do with those arms is up to them. We cannot take responsibility for other people’s actions.
Ladies and gentlemen, if they won’t step up and take responsibility for the content people are able to consume, we must.