(Title Image: BBC Wales)
Covid-19 & news journalism (pdf)
Published: 14th September 2020
- Further calls for UK Government furlough scheme to be extended as bigger outlets deal with collapse in advertising revenues.
- New financial models to deliver digital news should be further investigated; more support needed for community radio.
- Praise for how Welsh Government improved its communications during the first pandemic peak as well as financial support to hyperlocal outlets.
- NUJ warns that Reach PLC’s restructuring plans could result in Wales being fed stories written for an English audience.
“There has been an enormous appetite for news during the pandemic and it has been more important than ever to ensure that the people of Wales have access to news that is accurate and relevant to them. But we are also acutely aware that the pandemic has put a huge strain on our news and media sectors, with depleted revenue from advertising and sales leading to job and service cuts.”
– Acting Committee Chair, Helen Mary Jones MS (Plaid, Mid & West Wales)
Balancing a big story with a difficult trading environment
The Committee heard that there was a strong appetite for news during the first peak of the pandemic, particularly locally-relevant news and changes to lockdown restrictions. However, Paul Rowland from Media Wales said: “trying to balance covering such an enormous story with such a difficult trading environment in the background has been very challenging”.
Dr Ifan Morgan Jones added that the crisis has been 20 years in the making due to a switch from print to digital media and wasn’t the only witness to suggest digital media going behind a paywall – though that comes at the risk of increasing reliance on advertising-funded UK media which doesn’t cover Welsh or local news.
While there were plenty of issues at a national level, Newsquest’s Gavin Thompson said scrutiny of local government became more difficult as council meetings weren’t routinely webcast.
Many of the contributions and recommendations were quite familiar: more calls for the UK Government furlough scheme to be extended; calls for some form of independently distributed public funding for the Welsh media; allowing hyperlocal websites to post statutory public notices and greater financial support for community radio.
Getting the message out
BBC Wales and ITV Wales both committed to, and properly prioritised, Wales-only public information and Welsh Government announcements. There was some criticism of the “sloppiness” by the UK-wide broadcasters on how they approached nation-specific information, with the UK often being confused with England.
There was praise for how the Welsh Government improved its communications as the first peak went on, with daily press briefings said to have been beneficial.
Emma Meese from Cardiff University said the Welsh Government has been more pro-active in supporting the hyperlocal sector, providing emergency funding worth £8,500 each to nine outlets.
For the larger print and online outlets – as well as community radio – which are reliant on advertising, however, the pandemic has had a disastrous impact. Some agencies pulled all their advertising and numerous job losses have been announced at Reach and Newsquest.
Media Wales’ NUJ branch chair, Martin Shipton, raised fears that a reorganisation of Reach’s editorial model (merging Media Welsh and English Midlands divisions) could result in generic pieces with no relevance to Wales – such as health – taking the place of copy from reporters based in Wales.