Mixed Signals on Local Papers

The Cairncross Review into the future of the UK news industry was published this morning. While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to look at it in detail (it runs to 157 pages!), there are some interesting recommendations, including greater regulation of social media platforms and the creation of an Institute for Public Interest News.

The report comes in a week which has produced good and bad news for those of us who have an interest in local newspapers. On the negative side, a survey carried out by Press Gazette has found that 43 local newspapers in the UK closed in 2018. The survey also found that there were 275 editorial job losses, many of them down to restructuring and other problems at major publishing groups such as Johnston Press and Reach.

But for once it’s not all doom and gloom. Press Gazette also found that 29 new publications started publishing in 2018 and that around 50 new jobs were created. Only this week the Manchester Evening News printed a Sunday edition for the first time, clearly believing that there is a market for it.

When I began working in local government PR back in the 1980s local newspapers were thriving. Committee meetings always had at least a couple of reporters at the press table. In fact I remember one reporter who would spend his day hanging around the cafes and pubs which were frequented by Council officers and members in the expectation that he would always pick up a lead for a story.

That hasn’t happened for many years. Those local papers which still exist do so on a shoestring budget and simply haven’t got enough staff to cover Council meetings. The result is that many highly contentious decisions simply go unreported. That obviously is not good for local democracy.

While I would like to think that there is certainly room for optimism, it’s sobering to remember that 245 newspapers in the UK have closed since 2005.

 

Ends

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