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Weeklies warned not to rest on their laurels

Weekly newspapers have been warned not to rest on the laurels of their current success.

Chairing the Newspaper Society’s Weekly Conference, Columbus plc director Paul Gibson said weekly newspapers should question their success and always look for improvements by increasing their awareness of growing consumer expectations and worldwide trends.

Open management would generate new ideas that would help weekly newspapers to stay ahead of their competitors, he said.

Opportunities for weekly newspapers on the Internet were discussed by Henry Copeland, chief executive of Pressflex.

He told the conference that 40% of people began their sessions on the Internet with local news when given the opportunity.

“Local paper sites sit at the intersection of the information highway – the real world,” he said. “The local paper has four key assets that the much-vaunted dot.coms are desperate to buy – brand, sticky news, free ad space and the human touch.”

Among delegates from the weekly newspaper industry who attended the conference in Newcastle were managing editors, advertisement directors, newspaper sales managers, managing directors, marketing directors and editors.

Alpha Newspaper Group chairman John D.Taylor said that weekly newspapers had a distinct advantage over dailies, with total dedication to local news and detailed information and the space to provide it, whereas dailies invariably had to include national news.

He also went on to praise the Newspaper Society for its campaign to keep newspapers VAT-free.

Michael Willmott, co-founder of the Future Foundation, outlined its research project called Changing Lives, looking at consumers’ attachment to their local communities, region and nation and examining the role of local and national media in the changing communications mix.

Against a backdrop of globalisation, an ageing population and an increase in one-person households, the research questions the mainstream view that the past was always better because it was more community-based.

Mr Willmott said the research showed that people’s lives were more locally focussed now, with the average family having three close relatives living within 10 miles, most people working near home and increased contact between families and friends through modern telecommunications.

Local communities were going to become more important as the vast majority of lives were spent in local communities, he said. This had already been illustrated by the interest that global brands were showing in the need to understand local markets.

Mr Willmott said that local media had a significant role to play in satisfying local communities’ needs for news, information and identity.

Penny Bray, newspaper sales and marketing director, Courier Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd, emphasised the value and strengths of local newspaper brands. Good brand management of the Courier brand led to customer loyalty and the strength of the brand was improved by brand extensions to maintain existing customers and attract new ones.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, outlined forthcoming legislation which was likely to affect the way weekly newspapers obtained and delivered news.

He said the Freedom of Information Bill was likely to lead to less openness, rather than more. The Human Rights Bill was in danger of allowing judges to bring in privacy legislation. The Local Government Bill would allow councils to meet in private and not give information on why they were meeting. And the Terrorism Bill would extend the definition of terrorism to include animal rights and environmental activists, so reporters would not be able to interview them.

Mr Satchwell urged delegates to tell the society of problems that newspapers encountered with local police forces, as evidence against the new ACPO guidelines on reporting of accidents.

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