On 16 June, 2009, the media analyst Claire Enders told a committee of MPs that half of the local and regional newspapers in the UK would close within the next five years.
The US-born founder and chief executive of Enders Analysis, who had made her name predicting the dotcom crash of the early noughties, told a hearing of the Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee that “many titles” were already losing money and were being sustained only by beneficent publishers.
“We are expecting that up to half of all the 1,300 titles will close in the next five years,” Ms Enders told the committee.
Her comments, which were taken at face value by many in the business world, set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry during which the defining media narrative about the local press became one of irreversible decline.
As today marks the fifth anniversary of Ms Enders’ infamous prophecy of doom, I thought it would be a good moment for HoldtheFrontPage to take stock of how her predictions turned out in reality.
Obtaining a precise figure for the number of local newspapers that have closed since the start of the recession in 2008 is not easy, but whatever the exact number, it is clear that her initial estimate of 650 has proved way off-beam.
Our own estimate, based on the stories we have covered on this site, is that there have been just over 100. Many of those were free newspapers. Others were titles that were folded into neighbouring sister titles, for example the Bridlington Gazette and Herald, now part of the Bridlington Free Press.
Only one, the Liverpool Post, went from being a paid-for regional daily at the time of Ms Enders original forecast to outright closure within that timescale.
Okay, so people sometimes get it wrong. In my days as a political journalist I made numerous predictions about political events that failed to come to pass – that Alan Johnson would lead the Labour Party into the last election, and that the Tory Lib-Dem Coalition would not last beyond three years, to name but two.
But unlike Ms Enders, I wasn’t paid a small fortune for making those wrong predictions, and neither, more importantly, were peoples’ jobs and livelihoods at stake.
The problem with Ms Enders’ pronouncements was that they were so widely believed at the time that they seemed likely to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about the future of the industry.
Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case – largely because, contrary to what Ms Enders told the committee, very few local and regional titles were actually being propped up by “beneficent” publishers. Most were – and still remain – profitable.
Looking at the list we have put together below, a clear economic pattern emerges. The wave of closures at the start of the recession – which under Ms Enders’ scenario would have continued to increase exponentially year-on-year – began to tail off with the partial recovery of 2010 before accelerating again in 2011 and 2012 as the ‘double-dip’ took hold.
But the ensuing two years have seen a much more sustained fall in the number of closures as the general improvement in the economy has gathered pace.
It is not an exhaustive list – publishers do not always tell us when they are closing newspapers, and we are then reliant on our industry sources to find out – but we try very hard to bring you comprehensive coverage of what’s going on in this great industry of ours, and I would be surprised if there were more than a handful that we missed.
And in any case, the really important thing about this list is not the 102 titles that are on it – but the 1,198 that aren’t.
Hammersmith and Fulham Chronicle
Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle
Mansfield and Ashfield Observer
Chesterfield Advertiser (since relaunched as a magazine)
Streatham Guardian (continued online)
Enfield Gazette (continued online)
Wear Valley Mercury
East Kent Gazette
Bridgwater and Burnham Times
Darlington and South Durham Herald and Post
Your Leek Paper
Cannock Chase Post
Sutton Coldfield News
East Herts Scene
Bucks Free Press Midweek
Woking News and Mail (since reopened under new ownership)
Bridlington Gazette and Herald
North Edinburgh News
Hounslow and Brentford Times
Lakeland Echo (continued online)
South Tyne Chronicle Extra
North Tyneside Chronicle Extra
Times series (Teesside)
Yarm Town Crier
Loughorough Trader Xtra,
Ashby Trader & Echo
Wandsworth Borough News
Weston & Worle News
Port Talbot Courier
Macclesfield Community News
Hale Community News
Knutsford Community News
Wilmslow and Bramhall Community News
La Nua (The Day)
Long Eaton Advertiser
Long Eaton Trader
Rhyl & Prestatyn Visitor
Midweek Advertiser (Ormskirk)
Huyton & Roby Star
Glasgow East News
Peterborough Herald and Post
Stamford Herald and Post
Total – 102