11 June 2009

Economic Stimulus Plan Urged for Local Journalism

The National Union of Journalists has urged new Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw to adopt an eight-point economic stimulus plan to help local journalism, the Press Gazette reports.

The government is to publish its Digital Britain report later this month. It is expected to include proposals aimed at safeguarding the future of local journalism.

"Local media is being undermined by the sapping away of resources from local newsrooms and a failure by major companies to invest in quality journalism," NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear wrote in a letter to the minister. He urged a "strategic and coordinated response" focused on "improving investment in local journalism – ensuring communities get the quality of news they deserve."

More than 130 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling on the government to explore "innovative solutions," such as deregulatory measures or financial help, to preserve local journalism, with the proviso that "firm guarantees on investment in local journalism" must be secured.

Among the measures suggested by the NUJ as part of a stimulus package:

* Reform of cross-media ownership rules with "a strengthened public interest test" to protect news-gathering capabilities.

* A commitment to ring-fence licence fee funding for the BBC.

* Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined public purposes, including the creation of incentives for investment "in quality local journalism that is rooted in our communities."

* Tax credits for individuals who subscribe to "newspapers that meet specified criteria around original journalism."

* Support for training opportunities that open access to journalism, along with "direct support for training to give media workers the skills they need for modern newsrooms."

The union suggests that "quality criteria" should be the only way to decide who gets government support. The NUJ says that these criteria could incude requirements to invest a specified proportion of profits into editorial resources; requirements over staffing ratios; ratios for originally produced content; commitments to maintain titles, offices and pagination; and obligations to monitor employee workloads and stress.

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