AND THERE’S MOORE…
by Cliff Moore, Account Director, Deep South Media
Sales of regional daily newspapers continue their relentless march downhill.
The most recent figures, sadly more illuminating than shocking, reveal some dreadful results.
And as someone who has spent 99 per cent of his working life in the industry I find this utterly depressing.
Statistics show the Birmingham Mail was down more than 20 per cent year-on-year, the Sunderland Echo lost 16.8 per cent and both the Coventry Telegraph and Cambridge News shipped 15 per cent.
If the trend continues much longer many of them may well cease to exist.
But, publishing groups will cry, the massive increases in digital readership more than make up for the decline in physical readership.
That is undoubtedly true in numerical terms, but misses the point.
The cover price, hiked up tremendously by many groups in a prime example of short-termism, is lost as sales plummet.
The increase in digital advertising is probably not replacing the amount lost from in-paper ads as the price for space drops in tandem with newspaper sales.
And that leads us to the oft-debated conundrum of whether it is beneficial to give away one’s news for free on the newspaper website before it appears in the print edition.
Obviously, breaking death and destruction stories need uploading immediately (otherwise someone else will gladly do it) but some balance needs to be struck between what goes first on the web or in print.
Most newspapers have never got to grips with this problem and it is surely too late to now consider introducing firewalls where none previously existed.
The recurring theory is that readership decline is bottoming out to a hard core plateau of loyalists. That’s interesting, but as older readers pass on will they be replaced by younger people?
Young people of my acquaintance wouldn’t dream of going out to buy a paper, but they will look at the websites (mainly for gossip, showbiz and sport), but that certainly isn’t contributing anything to the newspaper’s coffers.
And, of course, we no longer have newspaper groups, rather we have multi-media, multi-functional organisations – and they are fighting against seemingly overwhelming odds for survival.
The bottom line is that we can’t allow regional newspapers to disappear. They perform a vital service – as well as bringing us the news and quality journalism – by providing a check on local authorities, statutory bodies and politicians.
However, that function will cease to exist if the squeeze from all sides continues much further. For who will foot the bill for quality journalists?
Newspaper websites, I would contend, simply won’t survive without a tangible product at their core. Cross-referencing of copy, ideas and promotions is surely the best way ahead.
Otherwise we are left with citizen journalists reporting the news on social media and, while that may be perfectly acceptable for straightforward events and pictures, there would be no in-depth analysis, no reporting of complicated situations and no uncovering of cover-ups.
In short, given that the national media will not have the resources or inclination to delve too deeply into matters of purely local importance, anyone, should they wish to, is likely to be able to get away with anything.
The inevitable conclusion is that it is vital that regional newspapers survive – perhaps even as weeklies rather than dailies - and the only way for that to happen is for us to keep buying them.