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25.8.08

Local newspapers: Use them or lose them

I took a phone call from an old newspaper colleague a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to know if I could help a former work mate find a job after being made redundant by a major regional newspaper publisher.
I seem to be getting a lot of these calls recently - and this issue was neatly addressed by Peter Wilby in today's Guardian.
Since 1989, circulation is down 51% to 12,549 for the Birmingham Post; 49% to 70,028 for the Leicester Mercury; 43% to 50,256 for the Northern Echo (I used to work there); 62% to 32,874 for the Argus in Sussex; 38% to 38,844 for the Echo in Southend; 38% to 36,516 for the Herald in Plymouth; 49% to 20,976 for the Oldham Evening Chronicle; 46% to 19,956 for the Halifax Evening Courier. North, south, east, west, large, small, morning and evening, the story for Britain's local papers is one of unremitting gloom.
Obviously, blogs, the internet, YouTube et al are having a huge impact on regional newspaper journalism and they are not going to go away. The main problem is that, certainly with the dailies is that they are pretending to give local, regional and national news.
But parochialism is everything - and regional newspapers seem to have forgotten that. In my part of the world, what makes news in Bradford doesn't make news in Leeds (ten miles distant).
Indeed, regionalism may have been deemed dead in some respects certainly at a local political level where people are not interested in what the councils of Hull, Leeds, Bradford or York have planned for their citizens. In spite of this I still love the Yorkshire Post and buy it every day. Similarly, as a resident of Barnard Castle I bought the Teesdale Mercury every week when I lived there.
Local is so important in regional newspapers. Back in the day when I was still a journalist - that meant covering the Women's Institute meeting, the Parish Council and the local art competition.
Curiously, I was in Alnwick in Northumberland a couple of weeks ago to grab a meal off the A1 on my way to meet with friends in St Andrews, Scotland. In the car park I found a purse. It obviously belonged to a lady of more mature years and, touchingly had a picture of her husband and about £22.00 in it. It had a receipt from the Post Office and that is where I handed it in.
Later, after our meal, I headed back to the Post Office to buy the local newspaper. The woman behind the counter recognised me and informed me that the lady had retrieved her purse and informed me: "She didn't have your phone number because you wouldn't give it to me. But she said she was going to write a letter to the Northumberland Gazette about it."
Bless! That's what local, regional newspapers are all about.

1 comment:

Wadds Tech PR Blog said...

Wholeheartedly agree with you Ian. And after all regional papers and local radio have been using user generated content at the heart of their reporting long before the rise of social media. To be fair there's a lot of local newspapers adapting to this new era. For example, the Northumberland Gazette that you mention has been publishing images and videos on its site of the floods in the North East.