Most people will be reading regional newspapers in tablet rather than print form within 15 years, a former daily editor has claimed.
John Meehan, who left the Hull Daily Mail this autumn, said focusing exclusively on the print product is “the road to nowhere” and hailed tablet devices such as the iPad as the way forward for the beleaguered industry.
In a wide-ranging article in In Publishing magazine, John also described uploading all newspaper content to the web free of charge as “total madness.”
Although he backed Northcliffe’s strategy of converting small dailies to weeklies, he suggests that newspapers in major towns and cities had “greater longevity” as dailies and could therefore make the transition to digital copy sales via tablets.
Said John: “I am astonished by the scarcity of regional media activity on tablets. Lately, I have become convinced that newspapers will migrate in significant proportion to mobile devices.
“The iPad is a game-changer for media and the Apple device and the multitude of copy-cats will continue to improve in experience and functionality, while reducing in price. I believe the printed newspaper will survive, but I suspect 10-15 years from now, more people will read tablet equivalents.”
John, who spent 28 years as a journalist and 14 as a Northcliffe editor, is now running a media and communications consultancy called Meehan Media.
However he says he “may return” to the sector one day and is anxious for it to thrive, not just survive.
In his article entitled ‘sustaining community journalism in the regions’ he says he ‘supports totally’ converting smaller dailies to weeklies.
“It is commercial logic to offer readers and advertisers a substantial weekly compendium of local life, rather than a flimsy daily offering. I suspect we will see many more titles go weekly over the next year or so,’ he wrote.
However, he said it was disappointing that the industry has failed to make the great leap forward to genuinely integrated multimedia publishing.
He wrote: “Yes, I know the prolonged economic crisis has been a major factor, but the truth is that we have failed to transform in tune with the world around us.”
John went on to say that the integration of print and digital needed to be done intelligently and putting all print content on to the web was “total madness” and was “cannibalising an already under-pressure print sales and readership.”
“But the other extreme – focusing almost exclusively on the paper because it’s what pays the rent now – is a road to nowhere. At best, that will achieve greater longevity for the printed product, but it will not maintain or grow audience, or sustain journalism.
“For example, why upload to the web the newspaper’s exclusive in-depth splash? Surely it’s better to refer to it online; promote the paper’s unique content; and drive conversation and follow-up angles on the website and via social media. Hardly rocket science, but does anybody do it, routinely? Indeed, are they allowed to?”
He added that to sustain journalism required the public to pay for it and for the industry to stop pandering to the digital freeloaders. This would include cover prices to reflect the value the newspaper offers – 50p plus for dailies and £1 plus for bumper weeklies.
On the search for new business models, John wrote: “I believe there are significant opportunities to develop and extend our brands without drifting from the core competencies of journalism, sales and marketing.
“An obvious example is events. Johnston Press identified this opportunity some time ago and make significant revenues from high-margin events ranging from business awards, to country pursuits and pet shows. All of them also reinforce the brand. It’s good to see other publishers taking heed.”
He also branded the recent scuppered attempt by the Kent Messenger Group to buy a group of newspapers from Northcliffe Media a ‘disgrace’, adding that the industry did not kick up enough of a fuss about it.
He goes on to say that for regional media to survive it has to make a big noise: “In the attention economy, blandness is death. Regional media can’t just report. It has to make a big noise, through campaigns, events and partnerships. Be your local community’s cheerleader in chief – evangelise life is local and promote consistently the immense value you bring to your locality.”
Read the full article here.