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Bleak future for regional dailies says pundit

Media pundit Roy Greenslade has reiterated his claims that regional daily newspapers are doomed to long-term decline and possible closure.

The former Daily Mirror editor turned lecturer and blogger says social changes have robbed most morning and evening papers of their readerships and that the current problems facing the industry go way beyond the credit crunch.

Writing in his London Evening Standard column yesterday, he said: “The crisis for regional papers is structural, stretching back way before this current economic slump.

“There is a noticeable difference between regional dailies and local weeklies. Most of the former are losing sales much faster — by at least 5pc a year — and are therefore facing imminent demise while the majority of latter may well have a longer life span.”

Earlier this week, Greenslade said during a radio discussion that there would be no morning regional newspapers left in 20 years time.

However in his column yesterday, he drew no distinction between morning and evening titles, claiming it was no longer relevant because almost every evening now publishes the bulk of its editions before lunch.

Greenslade, who writes a blog for MediaGuardian, praises the route taken by the Guardian-owned Manchester Evening News in attempting to tackle circulation decline by “hybrid distribution.”

“It both sells copies and gives them away at various points in the city. The result has been a huge circulation boost, to a total of 161,500 copies a day, of which 83,700 are distributed free,” he says.

Commenting on Greenslade’s views, Peter Montellier, deputy editor of The Journal in Newcastle, said: “I think he’s wrong. I was looking at figures for evening papers in the early 1950s and some papers have done remarkably well.

“We see a future for morning newspapers. There are still people buying newspapers. People like the hard copy product and we’ve still haven’t come up with the technical alternative.

“Newspapers are read on the train or standing in a queue – it’s the portability and light-weight nature of it which appeals. It’s a tactile thing. I cannot speed read on the internet.

“There are huge challenges for the media. The information that we gather is what drives the market. The BBC would not function without local newspapers. They don’t have enough staff to go out on the ground to cover stories.”

  • Is Greenslade right or wrong? Have your say in the comments below, or call Paul Linford on 01332 253064 to give us your views.


    Pedro (04/09/2008 08:06:12)
    Roy never stops banging on about the end of local newspapers, the end of subs blah blah blah. He’s just a doomonger. Yes, it’s a time of great change and yes, the industry will have to develop, but will it die.
    No, of course it won’t. Why can’t we have a cheerleader for newspapers? If we ever need one, it’s now.

    Peter Lazenby (04/09/2008 09:30:01)
    The situation isn’t been helped by the regional newspaper owners. I work at the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds, owned by Johnston Press. A few months back they reduced our daily editions from five to two, and transferred the printing of the paper from Leeds to Dinnington, around 40 miles away. The main deadline for the YEP is now 4pm the day BEFORE publication. So if a ‘plane crashes on Leeds at 10 am today there’ll be nothing in the YEP about it until tomorrow – meanwhile every other section of the media will be having a field day.
    Our sister paper the morning Yorkshire Post can get stuff in up to around 2 am for that morning’s paper. We come out later but our deadline is 10 hours earlier. Crazy. Do they think the readers are so thick they won’t notice it’s all yesterday’s news? Circulation is now down to less than 50,000 a night and still falling. However, by sacking 50 printers they’re saving over £1m a year in wages, which is what seems to count most. It’s not just Johnston Press either. Newsquest have done it in York and other centres. They’re making a bad situation worse, all in pursuit of profit.
    Peter Lazenby.

    richard meredith (04/09/2008 09:42:33)
    Yes, newspapers are at a watershed. And yes, unless and until owners prioritise public and community responsibility before profit, they will die. In the current squeeze, the lemmings are forgetting that the second will follow the first and not the other way round. Quality journalists do not produce a can of beans in 57 varieties. It’s time for good editors to stand up and be counted as well as their paper’s circulation stats.

    Alan Salter (04/09/2008 10:01:47)
    Anyone remember when new technology was going to free us all from the tyranny of hot metal?
    Isn’t it always the case that today’s revolutionary is tomorrow’s tyrant?

    ANON (04/09/2008 10:21:39)
    Newsapers may be losing a huge gamble by concentrating too much staff efort on web news, which for many companies brings in only about 4 per cent of income. Meanwhile the print news goes down the pan. If the web fails it may be too late to go back to newspapers.
    Your correspondent is right about the BBC. It would be lost without follow-ups from the regionals. But has anyone noticed how the regionals are often just relying on following up stories from weeklies because they have NO district staff at all. Readers DO notice.

    LadyL (04/09/2008 12:12:23)
    Of course he’s wrong. There are problems, but if there are no newspapers left in 20 years it’ll be because the owners have cut so many corners our readers have no faith in us any more. We need to concentrate on doing what we’ve always done best – representing local communities – in what ever medium they want us to, and stop the cost-cutting that leads to lazy, sloppy churnalism and a lack of pride in the product. The MEN is not only at the forefront of changes in distribution but also at the forefront of changes in the way we work. They’re smart and innovative. That’s what Newsquest, Johnson et al should be imitating instead finding ways to sack as many people as possible.

    F. Johnston (04/09/2008 12:19:33)
    I totally agree with Richard Meredith. I think there is a future for local news organisations producing for print and web but it is clear that the current business model of monolithic companies with distant and centralised management seeking ever more ludicrous profit margins to satisfy shareholders just does not work. We need local owners with good editors and committed staff on the ground – which is how most of the regional press started in the first place.

    Regionalhack (04/09/2008 13:18:08)
    Local newspaper management are totally mesmerised by the web, misguidedly hoping they will make Google-loads of money. The web is only another edition, not the whole future. More people in a paper’s area actually read the printed paper than read the web as a huge amount of web hits are from ex-pats.
    Johnston Press have invested in new presses, but then put back the deadlines so their daily papers are yesterdays news tomorrow. Madness.
    Management are as much a problem for the future of local papers as changing social habits, as they cut staff and think deadlines don’t matter. Have they not noticed that quality is everything these days?

    mario (04/09/2008 15:39:00)
    Regional dailies are the lifeblood of local community news and the public knows this. Take a look at the BBC news on radio and TV and it is full of American and other international stories which can be bought cheaply from agencies. Local news is virtully non existant on the national radio and TV. Newspapers fill a need, keep the faith and they will have a future.

    Darren (04/09/2008 17:32:23)
    “It’s a tactile thing. I cannot speed read on the internet.”
    Never opened several tabs on a browser before or gone on a wikipedia or youtube trail?
    You can do more than speed read on the internet, you can speed read several titles at once.
    Plus, when your looking for houses, property or jobs the internet is now most people first port of call.
    I’m afraid Journalists have to wake up t
    o the fact that the internet is here to stay.
    No-one has quite cracked an e-book yet, but iphones and portable devices are making it easier to use the internet on the move than ever before.
    adapt or die folks!

    Roy Greenslade (05/09/2008 08:18:22)
    Before I deal with the comments, I ought to point out that the bulk of my argument does not appear on this précis. I explained that the decline of regionals – mornings and evenings – was due to a combination of factors. They include population growth, geographical mobility, immigration, the huge growth of cities and conurbations, and the consequent loss of identity of the people with the places in which they live.
    I also pointed to the problems faced by journalists: centralised decision-making has robbed councils of their powers, councils have become more adept at preventing papers from reporting on the policy-making process and, as we know, staffs have been reduced. Restrictions on court reporting have robbed papers of their former staple editorial diet of petty crime. Then there’s the problem of finding an editorial agenda that appeals to a fragmented modern British population, across social class, education and other demographics, such as age and race.
    It is not a case of doom-mongering, Pedro, but of reporting reality. mario argues that “regional dailies are the lifeblood of local community news and the public knows this.” But the public clearly doesn’t know it. And who are the public anyway? Again, consider my argument. “The public” is not an homogenous group. That’s why papers are finding it impossible to serve them.
    Regionalhack writes: “More people in a paper’s area actually read the printed paper than read the web.” If so, it only reinforces my point that the papers – whether in print or online – are no longer wanted by people.
    Finally, Peter Lazenby and LadyL blame owners and I agree that they must take their share of the blame. But I commend F. Johnston’s comment about the demands for ever-increasing profit margins. This illustrates why owners act the way they do: they must satisfy shareholders who invest ONLY to obtain high returns. Is it only the NUJ that is prepared to question capitalism’s faults?

    F. Johnston (05/09/2008 09:45:55)
    Thanks for the response Roy. Good points, well argued. I really believe there is a future for publishers with complementary print/online products but they will be small-scale operations reconnected with smaller, more readily-identifiable communities. I think the industry’s current troubles are the start of the process which will realign it on these lines.
    Companies like Johnston Press, are dinosaurs afflicted by the sort of short-termism that has blighted so much of British industry over the last 40 years. It is that short-termism that contains the seeds of their inevitable destruction but, as ever, it’s the staff, customers and society generally that pay the price.

    A Hack (05/09/2008 10:13:48)
    The problem I have is that Greenslade seems to take delight in being a prophet of doom, and his comments give mindless executives at the top of, say, Trinity Mirror, excuses to make drastic hacks. Quite simply the web is not the answer – no-one can make any money off it.

    richard meredith (05/09/2008 10:44:32)
    Roy: the heart of this is your view that shareholders invest ONLY for profit. If that is the case, then most regionals as far as I can see are bound for Hell in a handcart. Ask any good journalist why they do the job and many explanations will come forth but I guarantee ‘to make a profit for the shareholders’ will not be one of them. There ARE
    solutions – taking the companies private; or ownership by those whose motive is not solely the highest RoI; what about different classes of shares?
    We need to think out of the box! Good journalists know they are not making a can of beans; without their work there will only be ad-sheets and our world will be a dark and dismal place. all best

    ANON (05/09/2008 10:51:29)
    Glad someone agrees the web obsession must be controlled. It ain’t goin’ nowhere for local papers who don’t have the staff numbers to run it properly as well as produce a decent paper.
    Strange that at cos like JP (not solely though) they seem to be inventing new management titles while the managers escape the cuts.
    Too many local papers are now edited remotely by people who neither know or care about the area covered by the paper.
    Local papers need local editors, but they are losing them all over the place because of central empire-building.
    The message I hear on the street every day from readers is get local again- or get lost.
    I think papers still have a future. We just need some managers will talent and long-term vision rather than filling holes in financial buckets.

    newsinusacom (05/09/2008 13:06:26)
    I agree with Peter Montellier that as a form of reading technology the newspaper currently has a number of advantages that other forms of technology have not equalled yet alone surpassed.
    This may change however.
    I would suggest so long as money can be made from newspapers there will be individuals who will be prepared to take the commericial risk and continue to publish.
    Is the issue at the moment more to do with work practices and numbers employed within newspapers?
    As a consequence of the increased choices and competition in the 21st Century and digital technology for news there are inevitably going to be some changes/closures/mergers etc .
    Painful yes, but these changes are not as severe as to what happened to the coal miners, steel workers or fleet street print workers in the 1980s.
    The internet as a method of exhibition is only going to increase in popularity especially video, so perhaps this is why it is more important for local news to invest in this technology now rather than simply leave it for the BBC to become the dominant player.

    jim (05/09/2008 16:37:40)
    I think 20 years is optimistic – I’d be amazed if there are any paid-for morning or evening regional titles left in 10 years. Why? Because the content in 95 per cent of them is sensationalist, simplistic, inaccurate, thrown-together rubbish.

    NorthernEcho (05/09/2008 20:03:50)
    He didn’t make it as a newspaper manager, didn’t really achieve anything in the business.
    Newspapers still have fantastic audiences which have been undervalued for years. Revenues are down today because the economy is weak, they will recover when the economy improves. On line recruitment has been with us for over a decade and businesses still advertise in print when they wan to take people on. People still want to see their property advertised in the local newspaper when the market is good.
    Bugger off Roy, you silly man.

    Richard Clark (08/09/2008 01:11:19)
    Don’t shoot the messenger. At least Mr G is being read.
    And when it comes to sniping about the man’s background ,do journos really feel proud to hide behind pen names or calling themselves anon?
    If you are going to publicly chuck muck, own up to your name.
    Apart from that little rant, we have been here before. If I had a lineage claim for every time I have seen the “Death of newspapers” explained by one pundit or other, I would be more comfortably off than near fifty years in the craft has left me.
    Pundits are for reading, for raising argument, for discussion . If you don’t like what they say, don’t read them, they will wither away.
    I can only think of my late Mother who read “Man of the people” every week for many years. It infuriated her, but she could not miss the next Sunday’s missive. He had a wonderful record of never writing anything she agreed with.
    Good on you, Roy.
    Richard Clark.