More than a third of regional newspapers will have disappeared by 2020, claims the latest research from Enders Analysis . Emily Bell, the director of digital content for Guardian News and Media, wrote in October that 25% of the national press could go under if the economic crisis worsened.
In America, local papers are vanishing by the day – recently, as reported by the FT, the Tribune series of newspapers filed for bankrupcy. That’s almost like Newsquest, the UK equivalent, dispersing into the ether for good, taking with it a shed load of newspapers. In the UK, Archant shut the offices of the Exmouth Journal and the Sidmouth Herald and shifted their journalists to a central ofice in Exeter to save costs. The death knell is looming for our regional press.
This is sad, but inevitable, as economic factors and the digital age conspire to squeeze budgets and take readers online in search of information.
Regional newspapers rely on their advertising revenue streams to stay afloat. From the local self employed builder’s classified, to a multinational company’s local showroom, the advertising money that a regional paper receives is its lifeline. The Daily Mail’s regional newspapers reported a 13% fall in operating profit year on year in March 2008, laregly due to the lack of property advertising. In November 2008, the Telegraph reported that the news group behind The Scotsman and The Yorkshire Post, said “advertising revenues had fallen 15.5% in the first 44 weeks of the year”. If the big boys are struggling, how are the smaller titles expected to cope?
Local journalism is the foundation upon which most professional journalists learn their trade before moving on. It’s the first step on the ladder and an important one at that. I briefly tried my hand at helping out a reporter on the Watford Observer, and indeed got bylined on the story, as well as my own vox pops piece the following week. I had to talk to local people about the closure of a popular music venue and bar – an issue that directly affected them. I spoke to some owners of other pubs and gained significant leads from one particularly helpful insider.
It taught me that there is always an answer to a question, no matter how hard it seems to be to find it, and that the internet cannot provide a solution to fact hunting. You have to go out and talk to people. I’m sure that many seasoned journalists now would agree that this is the first thing they learned too, regardless of writing ability.
For some people, the regional newspaper is their only way of finding out their local news, particularly in smaller communities that are perhaps isolated. They provide a focal point around which people can wax lyrical, complain or simply find out what the sunday league football results were.
The newsgroups took their time embracing the digital age and it seems have only in the last two years managed to haul their local rags online to a degree where every story in the paper is now on their webpage. So what is the next step?
Do regional papers cut printing costs altogether and transform themselves into purely online publications?
Or do they use Twitter, and embrace their audience in a new way?
Newspapers could use automated RSS read feeders to update their Twitter statuses with the latest news, allowing anyone who follows them to get their local news, much in the way the BBC or Sky News does. Or for something less intrusive, and to avoid noise, why not encourage people to setup Twitter keyword alerts using Twilert or Tweetbeep to follow what’s happening where they are – just start each tweet with, for example, ‘Watford Observer:’ and encouarge readers to add that as a keyword.
Regional papers, once again, ust quickly adapt to the shifting landscape around them before it’s too late, and hopefully, in one form or another, they will survive.