IPSO Blog: Annual Statements 2019

Standards Officer Rosemary Douce reviews the 2019 Annual Statements 

IPSO has this week published its 2019 annual statements. Submitted each year by all regulated publishers, these documents are a public statement on journalistic standards required as part of the legally enforceable contracts between IPSO and publishers.

There is no set format for an annual statement. Publishers − who range from the well-known national newspapers to specialist magazines and websites − can submit their statement in whatever style suits them. That said, all statements must include a list of each publisher’s titles, information about the publisher’s complaints process, and the steps taken in response to any upheld complaints to ensure they are not repeated.

What was different this year?

When the annual statement process kicked-off in February and IPSO requested all statements be received by the end of April, no one foresaw any problems with the timeline. For many publishers, this would be the sixth statement they submitted. However, once the UK went into lockdown in March, it became apparent that some would have difficulty completing the statement before the deadline; either because they were short staffed or were unable to access their records while working from home. Some members ceased publication entirely during the lockdown period – although we know now that they are now back up and running, or will be by August, which is good news.

The Covid-19 pandemic also exacerbated the financial predicaments facing the industry. In light of the logistical and financial pressures on our members, IPSO adopted a greater degree of flexibility. This approach was prescient, as the opportunity for conversation with members offered illuminating insights into the ways the coronavirus lockdown affected their business and gave us a clearer picture of the industry-wide situation publishers are facing. Although the circumstances are troubling, the annual statement process has this year built stronger relationships between IPSO and our regulated titles than any year previously.

How are publishers coping through the pandemic?

These conversations gave a flavour of the challenges the newspaper and magazine industry face, but also the ways in which they are adapting and evolving. For example, few had ever put together an entire newspaper or glossy magazine with all staff working from home, but have since adapted to deliver an outstanding product in a novel environment.

All sectors have been hit by the loss of advertising revenue. Some free local newspapers have become paid-for titles, while others have sadly closed. We know that many older people rely on their local newspapers for trustworthy, quality journalism which is vital at a time when many are isolated at home.

The magazine sector has been hit by the closure of WH Smith’s during lockdown, and although supermarket sales and subscriptions have increased, this has not always offset losses.

A bright spot has been the huge increase in the content engagement and number of page views for online and hyperlocal publications. One editor told IPSO, “it’s time for the independents to shine.”

What happens now?

As part of our commitment to transparency, the statements have now been published on our website and can be viewed here.