3 ways local papers can save themselves

Local newspapers are dying. I say that not as a wish but as a fact. I would love to see the resurgence of locals but sadly the economic model that funded them belongs to a bygone era. Here’s just a few ways they can save themselves.

As an advertiser the local paper is no longer the most efficient way of getting your message out there and the revenue from sales has plummeted in recent years. It is estimated that over 50 newspapers have closed in the past two years. What can local journalists do to stop this? One option is to go on strike.

That is exactly what is happening right now at the Brighton Argus. They are furious because the production team is to be moved to Southampton (an hour’s drive away). It is true that the move seems to be being done in a rather bizarre way (my understanding, for example, is that the features subs will remain in Brighton but the news subs will go to Southampton). But there is a wider point that this is just a part of a long-term process of decline for locals.

The NUJ has condemned the owner Newsquest for its short-termism but these trends are noticeable across the country. In the same way that it has become increasingly inevitable that manual work is exported to countries where labour is cheap, local newspapers are being merged into large offices with threadbare staffs.

Does this make the journalism worse? Almost inevitably. Does it mean the end of the genuine local journalist? Possibly. But it need not be the end of local journalism.

There are a few things I think local journalists can do to make sure they continue to represent their areas.

1. Blogs. Firstly journalists need to make sure they are better plugged into the hyperlocal blogging scene. Too often the relationship between bloggers and journalists is one of mutual hostility. Journalists have to get used to the idea that the blogger may know better than they do, particularly if they are remote.

2. Freelancers. Most locals tend not to make use of freelance writers, preferring a few dedicated staff and a work experience monkey. This model no longer makes sense if they are many miles from their area. They need to diversify their list of contributors  to include local bloggers, students, pensioners or basically anyone interested. These people should be paid a little for their articles but not too much.

3. Polls. Local journalists should make better use of tools that have not traditionally been available to papers but have been made so by the internet. Take, for example, polls. Traditionally polls have been expensive tools used only by the large nationals. Now the internet means that you can get instant answers from whole communities. There are obvious problems of bias and reliability but these need be impossible to iron out. Polls provide a guaranteed source of stories, and if they are interactive they can help improve relations with their audience.

These are just three ideas but there are lots of ways of improving contact with their readership. Sadly the days when journalists are a key figure in the local community may be limited. Going on strike will not save local journalism, local journalism must reinvent itself to stay alive.

2 responses to “3 ways local papers can save themselves

  1. Perhaps one answer is that local papers go back to their origins.
    Most local papers can be traced back to a local printer. They saw money in pamphlets, newsbooks and broadsheets. It was in many cases a side line using spare capacity to run off sproradic, then regular weekly, editions. Mainly an advertising medium with with initially news lifted from any newspaper or magazine that came their way They began to make money, grew journalistically and became a valued part of glue that held their community together. The system stumbled along happily until the late nineteenth century when new methods and new readers created an industry.
    This should now be the golden age of journalism. Never has it been easier or cheaper for journalists to reach their audiences. But local newsapers themselves became a commodity. They were bought by multinationals who wanted, and got, multinational levels of return on capital. In a time when the industry is under the cosh, big groups are still taking profit levels of 20-30 percent on falling turnovers.
    One day, they will have extracted all the profit they can and the accountants will say: move on, get out.
    Then perhaps it will be back to a local model again for local papers.

  2. I wonder how this fits in with Cameron’s Big Society – if localism is to be a reality there needs to be local communication conduits and not everyone is computer savvy – for many older people local newspapers are an important way of staying in touch with their local community. Maybe we’ll have to go back to graffitti walls

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