Culture Secretary urges public to buy a paper as press faces crisis

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden arrives in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting ahead of the Budget
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden arrives in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting ahead of the Budget.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has asked the public to “add one small thing” to their to-do list and buy a newspaper as the press grapples “with the biggest existential crisis in its history”.

The newspaper business has come under increasing strain amid the coronavirus pandemic, with falling advertising revenue and declining circulation.

Two of the UK’s biggest publishers have cut wages for staff in the latest round of measures to mitigate the impact of the crisis.

The Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), which owns the Mail, Metro and the i newspaper titles, has imposed a pay cut on all staff earning over £40,000 a year.

And Reach, owner of the Mirror and Express papers, said all staff will see a pay cut of at least 10% due to heavy falls in advertising and circulation.

Mr Dowden has also instructed brands to end “ad-blocking” on online news articles about the pandemic and allow their adverts to appear next to coronavirus news stories.

Writing in The Times, he said: “Despite the massive disruption the coronavirus lockdown is causing to the production and distribution of news, those working in the industry have shown a dogged determination to keep the show on the road.

“Right now the news industry is doing a vital public service by giving important information to people as the pandemic unfolds.”

He added: “As the country fights our greatest national emergency since the Second World War the press is grappling with arguably the biggest existential crisis in its history.

“National, regional and local newspapers are under huge financial pressure, largely because of plummeting commercial advertising on their printed pages and websites.

“Falling demand for advertising has also been exacerbated by something called keyword blocking, where advertising linked to specific keywords is prevented from being served on papers’ web pages. Some major UK brands and parts of the advertising industry are blocking adverts appearing next to coronavirus-related news stories.”

Mr Dowden said an irreversible decline in news publishing would have “far-reaching implications for democracy in our country”, adding: “So today I am asking companies and the advertising industry to act and do all they can to resolve this issue.

“I have written to the 100 biggest brands in the UK to urge them to review their advertising policies and check they are not inappropriately blocking adverts from appearing next to news providing a vital public service.

“Newspapers are at heart of the British media and essential to its vibrant mix. People across the country are rising to the coronavirus challenge and I suggest we all add one small thing to our to-do list: buy a paper.”

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