In the last few days the NUJ has held a number of events across the UK to mark their Local News Matters week of action. As I have said before in these posts, our local newspapers seem to be in a vicious circle of decline. Low circulation figures cause a loss of advertising revenue, which leads to cuts in editorial budgets, which leads to a poorer quality publication that is less attractive to readers, which leads to lower circulation figures.
There seems little cause for optimism. According to a study commissioned by the NUJ, 60 per cent of the UK population now live in an area which has no local daily newspaper. The study also shows that local weekly newspapers have seen an 11 per cent drop in circulation over the last year.
Most local papers no longer have enough staff to cover Council meetings and Court cases. This is obviously good news for public sector press officers who now get their press releases printed word for word. But overall it has resulted in a situation which means that many people are unaware of what is going on in their own communities. Surely that can’t be good for democracy?
I think that part of the problem is the lack of diversity in the local news market. The Big Five publishers (Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Archant and Tindle) between them publish 77 per cent of all local papers in the UK. This means that many local papers are actually printed, and often edited, many miles away from the geographical area they serve.
Maybe if we had more diversity in the ownership of local papers, then we might have a stronger local press.