2020 in Review: A Message from our CEO, Ed Procter
Ed Procter, CEO of IMPRESS, reflects on the key milestones of 2020, including the role of press standards through a global pandemic, IMPRESS’s growing membership, and what's in store for 2021.
When I became CEO of IMPRESS at the beginning of March 2020, I was looking forward to getting out and about to meet many of the stakeholders that we work with.
Lockdown struck, the world changed and the toughest and most unpredictable year that I can remember began. This year brought challenges we weren’t expecting. Press standards came to the forefront of public debate, and the demand for responsible reporting became more important than ever.
Early on in the pandemic, at IMPRESS we worked hard to rise to the challenge: we knew that high-quality journalism would play a crucial role in informing the public, telling the stories of local communities, and scrutinising the response of public figures and authorities. We set up a Covid-19 resources hub, we shared best practice guidance for reporting on public health issues and we supported more than 70 journalists working for IMPRESS-regulated titles to continue reporting during lockdown under our key worker scheme.
When concerns were raised about journalists breaking public health guidelines, we promptly issued an advisory notice reminding regulated publishers of their obligations and the standards expected of publicly accountable journalists. We also investigated and adjudicated upon our first Covid-19 case which involved an article that assessed the efficacy of vitamin D in the treatment and prevention of Covid-19.
Having helped to establish the Public Interest News Foundation, it was great to see PINF get off to a flying start by awarding emergency grants to 20 independent news organisations and receiving charitable status from the Charity Commission. With advertising revenues hit hard and community distribution channels interrupted, it has been a real challenge for many titles to keep going. At IMPRESS, we worked diligently behind the scenes to ensure that smaller, independent publishing groups had access to various funding programmes and that the value of membership of an approved regulator was fully understood by funding bodies.
I hope that our efforts to support journalists to report responsibly and ethically played its part in encouraging large numbers of publishers to apply to join IMPRESS. The Pavement, a free magazine for the homeless community, became the 100th media organisation to sign up for publicly accountable, approved regulation this year, along with 30 other titles such as the Nottingham Times, The Ecologist, The Perth Gazette and many more. The monthly audience reach of IMPRESS regulated titles has now surpassed the 15 million mark.
My number one priority as CEO of IMPRESS is to lead the way in showing how better regulation can build greater trust in journalism through accountability, transparency and stronger audience engagement. Our open resources programme has touched on matters that are crucial to the role that journalism plays in promoting democratic discourse and engagement, with more than 1000 delegates registering for our various activities. In partnership with the Market Research Society (MRS), we published guidance and delivered online training on reporting on polls and surveys, particularly relevant in a year of elections and a global pandemic. We also tackled issues of whistleblowing, countering hate speech and protecting children through the new age-appropriate design code in partnership with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
This year, we made a challenging but necessary decision to move our Trust in Journalism Conference 2020 online. The blessing in disguise was that our talented team managed to stage a truly international event with speakers from North and South America, Asia, Australia and Europe and delegates joining us from more than 40 countries around the world. Sessions covered a wide range of themes including reporting race, journalism and mental health, journalism online and more.
Some of these themes will be part of the comprehensive review of our Standards Code, launched in November. Please help us to ensure that our Standards Code continues to be relevant and fit for purpose by responding to our call for evidence which closes on 30 January 2021.
Another priority for me this year has been to make IMPRESS a more diverse and inclusive organisation. I’m very proud of our multi-national staff team and the way in which our 2020 conference celebrated the diversity of our industry. In addition, we have also been positively challenged and energised by new additions to our Board, Regulatory Committees and Appointment Panel.
With vaccines on the way, I hope that 2021 allows us all to get back to a more normal way of life. For news publishers, let’s hope that means an upturn in advertising revenue and a reopening of distribution channels. We have big plans ahead to further build on the regulatory services we provide to publishers as we continue to grow and work alongside other regulators in the digital media space.
If I have one wish for 2021, it’s that journalism learns one simple, yet fundamental, lesson from 2020: the public has a replenished appetite for public interest journalism. Let’s keep working together to ensure we all do our part in providing a healthy, balanced and ethical news diet in the year ahead. Enjoy your holiday, however you celebrate. We look forward to working with all of you in 2021.
Chief Executive Officer