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Can local newspapers survive? asks former daily editor

A former regional daily newspaper editor is to address the survival of the local press industry in a high-profile lecture this week.

Neil Fowler, former editor of the Western Mail, Derby Telegraph, Lincolnshire Echo and The Journal, Newcastle, will deliver the Guardian Lecture at Nuffield College, Oxford, on Thursday.

Entitled “The rise, the fall and the future of regional and local newspapers in the United Kingdom,” the lecture follows a year-long research project carried out by Neil in his role as Guardian Research Fellow.

Neil, pictured left, gave a taster of the arguments he will be developing in the talk when he gave evidence to a parliamentary committee on injunctions and privacy yesterday.

Asked whether he was frustrated by the PCC’s failure to prevent the phone-hacking scandal, he said:  “I believe this been a huge diversion from what really matters in newspapers right now, and that is the financial state of the regional and local newspaper industry.

“I think you should be looking at that rather than this business.”

“Thirty to thirty-five million people touch on a local newspaper every week in the UK. The financial model has changed dramatically and these guys who work at the sharp end each day are facing the real issues, which is can their newspapers survive?

“Can there be a newspaper scrutinising local MPs, local authorities and local courts going forward?  This is a big diversion because regional and local newspapers act in a certain way and nationals in another way, and this is taking away from what we should really be discussing.”

Also giving evidence to the committee were Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker, Sunday Sun editor Matt McKenzie, Scotsman editor John McLellan and Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray.

Several of the editors criticised the rise of so-called ‘conditional fee agreements,’ which they said had made it less likely that regional newspapers would be able to fight libel cases.


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  • November 9, 2011 at 9:55 am

    scrutising local MPs? too many suck up to them, using their press releases to fill space because they dont have enough reporters to research proper stories. We know national papers are pathetically biased and unbalanced but some local papers need to watch their political neutrality.
    There is hope for local papers BUT they must be staffed by an adequate number of reporters unencumbered by messing about with digital publications- which are impprtant enough to have their own dedicated staff. Sadly, to save money publishers want reporters to be jacks of all trades and they are rapidly becoming masters of none.
    There is a future for papers, not perhaps as rosey as before, but it needs some clear thinking and the industry has not seen a lot of that in the past few years.

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  • November 9, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Can local papers survive? Yes, I think they can. The key I think is in the word local. In my experience, not enough papers carry great local stories. Reporters are based out of town and cover huge areas. There is little grass roots contact, and very little reporting outside of courts and council meetings and press handouts. Personally I think the issue is with the owners. Big companies have sucked the profit out of local papers for years and that is now unsustainable. They’ve cut costs and staff and created a vicious circle. Some of them have even out of desperation launched what they call “hyperlocal” websites. Hmmm. Isn’t that what local papers used to be?
    There is space for low-cost start ups, local reporters covering the local patch in a meaningful way, not just endlessly rehashing dull press releases. But there might not be enough ad revenue around to support these big companies with directors’ huge salaries any more, but there is revenue.
    If print and distribution are too expensive, then the web is the future. But I think there can be a future. Watch this space.

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  • November 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Is it a public lecture? Can anyone go? Is it ticketed? Is there a link for more info? Please.

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  • November 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Circulations are steadily declining so let’s not kid ourselves.
    If they ever go up I’ll eat a lightly buttered notebook.
    More people read papers online and don’t therefore buy. Some papers have such a lacklustre quality these days they hardly deserve to survive. The cuts in staff clearly show. The better golden years slipped away a few years ago. Much less grassroots coverage and sloppy reporting.
    In my area for instance you will read just two or three pars about a biggish fire or serious accidenst for instance but there’s no follow-up. Facts snatched from police or fire and that’ll do for many papers. No interviews with the household or others involved. Amazing.

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