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Changes and challenges

How is the UK media coping during the coronavirus pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic could mean "job decimation" in the press at a time we need it the most, says Quill Chairman Fiona Harris.

April 2020

A lot can change in a week. We are all now having to come to terms with a world that looks very different and dramatically change how we live our daily lives and, most importantly, interact with those around us.

At Quill PR we have been picking up the phone to clients and the press, choosing to talk to each other in these isolated times rather than rely solely on cold, hard emails. We have been concerned about our friends in the press, who are on the reporting front line not only dealing with a constant and unforgiving stream of often depressing news but who may also be worried about job security.

As one journalist recently said, we could be looking at potential ‘job decimation’. Pre-Covid-19, the media was already facing huge challenges. A plethora of problems such as falling advertising revenue resulted in regular rounds of redundancies. We also saw the consolidation of the editorial and production teams at the likes of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, as well as The Times, which has led to further wholesale redundancies. Many journalists have been forced to go freelance or look for new careers. The knock-on effect of the coronavirus pandemic is only amplifying these problems.

All of this comes at a time when reporting the news has never been more important, or more relied upon by the public. Data from research agency Censuswide has revealed that nearly half (46%) of all Brits are reading national news at least once a week and 48% say they are reading publications more than they usually do. Most are reading to keep up to date with the coronavirus pandemic (77%), but a fifth are doing it simply because they now have the spare time to spend reading papers, at a local, national and international level.

At a time when we all feel more isolated and anxious, access to well-researched and trustworthy news is vital, and this makes the pressure facing the industry all the more unnerving.

A key, but perhaps overlooked, part of the media workforce that are particularly susceptible to these industry crises are freelancers. At Quill we have always been great supporters of the freelance fraternity, many of whom are very experienced and well-regarded journalists, but who often live a tough and unpredictable existence. In times of uncertainty they are often the first people to be let go. Worryingly, we are already seeing this happen in the current global emergency.

Most freelancers rely on their core income from corporate work working for various companies writing newsletters, factsheets, investments notes and website content. However, it is commissions from newspapers and magazines that is the most prestigious and keeps their name out in the market that are the first areas to be cut when budgets are under pressure.

With publications such as the Evening Standard reducing their print run and its morning equivalent City AM cutting print altogether to go digital, the Covid-19 crisis could be the final straw not just for journalist jobs and freelance work but also for some of the print publications. Digital, real-time consumption of information and news is what people want now.

We will continue to talk to all our friends and colleagues in the media to support their access to quality commentators and useful and insightful content for their readers. The media has always been resilient and steadfast in providing an essential public service during times of national crisis. Let’s hope that in the post Covid-19 landscape the UK media – which is admired and respected around the world – will be alive and kicking, we are lucky to have it.