Are local papers immortal?

Who would dare argue with Sir Ray Tindle when he says most of his 220-odd local newspapers will still be here in 100 years time?

Sir Ray, 87, predicts continuing profits from the empire he runs from a converted courthouse in Surrey with a head-office staff of three.

The keys to his success are that his papers are ultra-local and very low cost. Sir Ray seems unconcerned by the internet, which he thinks has “rather too much to do” to allow it to cover local news in the same detail.

Meanwhile the rest of the local newspaper industry is on the slide. Things are so bad that Guardian media journalist and academic Roy Greenslade has called for state subsidies to prevent more papers closing,

He told a House of Lords committee good journalism in our towns and cities should be preserved, and after much soul-searching  he thought “there ought to be some funding for public service journalism”.

No, sorry. This cannot be right. After watching the big groups milk their local titles for profits, through decades of centralisation and greedy mismanagement, I really do not see Joe Public agreeing to subsidise local journalism.

On the other hand Sir Ray’s optimism looks increasingly dreamlike. His belief that the internet will not cover towns in the same detail as his newspapers is not born out by the rise in local news websites, many of which cost next to nothing to run and some of which are excellent.

Can we realistically expect today’s young people to access local news in the same ways their grandparents did?

Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke, who wants to ensure his stores keep in tune with customers’ changing habits, points out in the Daily Telegraph some of the changes that mark them out from previous generations.

Today’s young students never need to go to a friend’s house to study together. Say tablet and they don’t think first of medicine. They have always been able to order their weekly shopping online. Their phones and cameras have always been in one device. They have never taken film to the chemist to be developed. There has always been Google.

They don’t want their parents’ books, or their record collections and I’m pretty sure they won’t want their printed newspapers. They will, however, want local news, but in a modern format and new business model – and that’s where Sir Ray’s successors, the new generation of local media entrepreneurs, will find their inspiration.

Most of Britain’s 1,000 local newspapers could still be around in 2113. Let’s hope they are, but it will surely be in some kind of digital format, not paper.

– GARETH WEEKES,  Deep South Media Ltd.