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Long live the local newspaper

March 29, 2009

Today’s Observer reports that local newspaper publishers are proposing that the government alter competition rules to allow mergers to keep local papers in business.

The rules come from a pre-digital television, pre-internet age and so in no way reflect the times in which we now live.

The industry has seen a large number of closures with an estimated 1,000 jobs disappearing this year already. Many of these have been in the free-sheets where presumably the owners expect the advertising revenues will be diverted to their paid-for papers.

For me it goes without saying that local media should survive and no government should make the role of public scrutiny more difficult.

But I am no enthusiast for the management of local papers. When Daily Mail General Trust withdrew the offer to sell their local papers, they were making margins of 30%+. By the general standards of British industry these were huge, but clearly not enough for greedy publishers. Trinity Mirror took their stable off the block when offers failed to meet expectations. Both are now suffering the massive fall in advertising revenue and probably wish they had sold out and had any cash!

Local papers and the internet

But not only have the publishers been greedy they have failed to follow the market. The buyers of local papers have a different demographic to the generation using the internet for news.

If the publishers had managed this better their problems might be less severe, given the migration of revenue to the web. Most local paper websites are pretty dreadful and don’t appeal to a web audience.

The publishers campaign to change competition rules follows the BBC Trust forbidding the corporation providing hyper-local news websites, in part because of pressure from the local press lobby. If the publishers are given greater freedom to combine then maybe the trust should reconsider its decision, more so given the reduction in ITV and local radio news resourcing.

Regional and local press have been a major training ground for national news reporters, offering a real experience with on the ground training and opportunities: look at how many local stories make the national media, every day.

Local media have a major role to play in the running of our democracy and we should not accept any reduction in their oversight.

By Geoffrey Davies

I am sure these will be issues we will discuss at our international conference Journalism in Crisis, in mid-May.

One Comment leave one →
  1. ovetore2 permalink
    March 29, 2009 3:56 pm

    Good Blog

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