New survey shows millions benefit from UK’s independent news publishers, but challenges remain
UCLan journalism sustainability experts work with Public Interest News Foundation to publish first ever detailed survey of the sector
Journalism sustainability experts from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) have worked with the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) to launch the PINF Index of Independent News Publishing 2021.
Dr Clare Cook, a senior journalism lecturer, and statistical analysis expert Dr Coral Milburn-Curtis have teamed up with (PINF) to conduct its first ever detailed survey of the sector.
"The data helps illuminate the extensive challenge facing all of us who work, support and research the sector. Digital open access publishing tools have created a myriad of opportunities to create new public interest news media but finding a way to be remunerated with a corresponding slice from the digital economy remains a challenge. "— Dr Clare Cook, UCLan senior journalism lecturer and leading expert in business viability of the independent news sector,
Key findings from the 56 publishers surveyed include:
- The reach of the sector far outstrips its revenue – the 56 respondents to the Index reach 10m monthly unique users on annual revenues of under £5.4m
- The sector operates on a shoestring – the median income of publishers was £42,224 and 40% of publishers generated less than £20,000 income
- Only 7% of publishers received government advertising or public notices
- Only one-sixth of publishers’ revenue came from readers via membership or subscriptions
- Some 40% of the publishers’ workforce is female but organisations with a higher proportion of women have higher revenues
- Some 9% of people working in the sector are from ethnic minorities and 70% of publishers have no ethnic minority workers
- Publishers said their greatest opportunity was the public’s growing awareness of the importance of local journalism following Covid-19
The report includes the following recommendations:
- The role of independent news publishers should be recognised by Ofcom and the Digital Markets Unit as they begin to regulate the relationship between news publishers and digital platforms;
- Support should be provided to publishers who are delivering local or niche news, which may be commercially unviable;
- Central and local government advertising, including public notices, should be spent equitably across the news publishing industry;
- Support should exist to diversify the independent publishing sector and the news economy as a whole.
The PINF Index represents the first time that the UK’s independent news publishing sector has been surveyed in this way. The index is modelled on the US Institute for Nonprofit News’ annual INN Index, launched in 2018. Comparisons between the two indexes show that a far greater proportion of the funding of non-profit publishers in the US survey comes from philanthropists.
"A healthy news media economy should accommodate publishers of all shapes and sizes. We’re worried that the digital economy is having a particularly harsh impact on small publishers."— Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of the Public Interest News Foundation
Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director of the Public Interest News Foundation said: “A healthy news media economy should accommodate publishers of all shapes and sizes. We’re worried that the digital economy is having a particularly harsh impact on small publishers. We want to understand this impact so that the foundation – as well as government, philanthropists and digital platforms – can support a diverse, competitive news economy.”
Dr Clare Cook, a leading expert in business viability of the independent news sector, said: “The data helps illuminate the extensive challenge facing all of us who work, support and research the sector. Digital open access publishing tools have created a myriad of opportunities to create new public interest news media but finding a way to be remunerated with a corresponding slice from the digital economy remains a challenge.
“Many are lean operations generating sustainable but small incomes of less than £20,000. Advertising still makes up a significant part of the revenue mix, and the transition to reader revenues is small. Clearly, we need more granular understanding of workable revenues, how to generate better returns on investments and the success factors that can drive higher incomes and growth for those for whom economies of scale and scope are not necessarily the forward path.”
Sue Cross, Executive Director and CEO of Institute for Non-profit News, USA: “The reporting produced by independent news media has outsize impact in a world where public access to trusted news is suppressed by economic and political pressures. Business experiments also are important to understand on an international scale, as these individual efforts make up a broad innovation network finding and building varied new ways to support public interest news.
“We are pleased to share the learnings from the INN Index and work in partnership with PINF to share this kind of knowledge across countries and borders.”
Download the The PINF Index 2021 report.