A move to break up ownership of the regional press could be the answer to its survival in the face of a number of threats, according to former editor Barrie Williams.
He fears that majority ownership by “big, bottom-line-driven corporate companies” could trigger the industry’s demise.
This, coupled with a reduced journalistic role and function, could mean the loss of an integral part of the community, he says.
The former editor of the Nottingham Evening Post and Western Morning News wrote in his new book, Ink in the Blood: “I just cannot see how the current pursuit of huge and ever-increasing profits can be commensurate with a passionate commitment to strong local journalism – the industry’s raison d’etre, nor, consequently, with the long-term survival of our local newspapers.
“I would dearly love to be proved wrong… But if I am right, I also believe that the life expectancy of both local journalism and local newspapers could be extended very considerably if the big groups got out of regional newspaper publishing and sold their newspapers individually to new local proprietors or consortia.”
He concedes this is no short-term option but suggests the time might come when the big companies were prepared to divest in other than one big block of titles, and says that a Government which cared about preserving such an industry could smooth a transition back to local ownership.
Barrie expects that new local owners would have different motivation and financial expectation, allowing investment in editorial quality while attracting a decent financial return, a return to being profit-making rather than profit-driven.
He says the seeds of self-destruction were also being carried by the reduction of status over the past 20 years of the essential stock-in trade, the journalistic role and function.
He wrote: “It seems to me that consuming new media will be like eating fast food. It will satisfy the hunger without stimulating the senses. It will be a robotic routine rather than an enriching experience.
“Thus, new media input may require a minimum of journalistic skill, heart and soul but that will never be the case with the content of the best of our local newspapers which, without the essential nourishment of journalistic excellence and passion, can only wither and die.
“So, deprived of the levels of financial investment in journalism which will, in my view, be incompatible with the profit demands of the big companies, the future of the printed word in the regional industry will be very bleak indeed.
“All of which makes it hard to escape the conclusion that, left as it is, our much loved and long cherished local press is in the early stages of its death throes.
“Its demise would not be wilful but it would be an outrage nonetheless.”
The book is available at £9.95 through www.woodfieldpublishing.com, or by mail order from Woodfield Publishing, Woodfield House, Babsham Lane, Bognor Regis, West Sussex PO21 5EL, 01243 821234.