Newspaper consultant Peter Sands has urged regional editors to examine their print content, claiming that much of it is “dull” and “boring.”
In a hard-hitting message to the industry, the former Northern Echo editor says some regional newsrooms resemble “treadmills” where “filling the paper” has become the raison d’etre.
Writing in the B2B magazine InPublishing, Peter, pictured left, says reporters are wasting too much time composing flights of nibs and re-writing material already available online.
Instead he urges newspapers to focus on quality content, as well as doing more to harness material generated by readers and local experts.
Wrote Peter: “With newsrooms pared back, it has become harder to provide genuinely interesting and fresh content. I visit regionals where the newsroom is on a treadmill, where the raison d’être has indeed become ‘filling the paper’.
“There is often far too much mortar, boring stories of little interest, running through the editorial bricks.
“I was astonished at one daily title where the reporters spent two hours a day putting together legs of shorts – ‘volunteers wanted,’ ‘coffee morning boost,’ ‘choir practice.’ People going to the choir practice already know it’s on, and the people who aren’t don’t give a monkey’s.”
“There is regularly a design issue too. Dull copy is often presented in a dull way. Good content needs to be accompanied by good design,” he added.
“If regional papers offer dull filler material, they will continue to alienate readers and the downward spiral will go on.
“Ultimately, if nothing changes, everything stays the same. And for regional newspapers, that will mean their demise edges ever closer.”
Peter urges regional papers to make more use of humour, describing this as an area where they are “generally pretty poor.”
And he claims that efforts by some papers to attract younger readers have been “very hit and miss.”
To address the problem, Peter urges editors to make sure reporters “focus purely on delivering the material that is valuable or entertaining.”
Acknowldeging the difficulties of allowing reporters to go off the diary when they have to keep “feeding the beast,” he advocates harnessing the community – “network journalism, pro bono, UGC, crowdsourcing, call it what you will.”
Says Peter: “This doesn’t mean a deluge of unsolicited rubbish, but actively seeking those with a story to tell.”
“One newspaper group has drawn up potential amateur columnists and editors persuade them to write about the real incidents they encounter each week – they include a harbourmaster, zookeeper, hotelier and, my favourite, taxi driver, who write about the events of the weekend.”
“His paper is packed with pro-bono copy. He argues that it enhances the title, improves quality and adds authority and expertise,” said Peter.
He quotes Tim as saying: “It helps us to better understand our readers, their passions and preferences, so that they form our agenda more directly than ever. It helps to bolster our audience too.
“All the contributors want to buy the newspaper which contains their picture, essay or poem. Readers who become enthusiastic fans of the paper tend to share their enthusiasm with others and encourage them to buy.”