The boss of the Society of Editors has sought to rebuff industry doom-mongers who have predicted the death of local newspapers, by insisting they are not on their “last legs”.
Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, has mounted a robust defence of the regional press industry, arguing that reports about the death of local newspapers were “seriously flawed”.
His piece, which appears in the new edition of the book What Do We Mean By Local?, acknowledged that some regional journalists and their companies were struggling, but claimed around two-thirds of the adult population still read a local newspaper every week.
Bob also insisted that the explosion of digital media should be “a cause for celebration fo journalists rather than a threat”.
In the book, he writes: “I do not doubt local and regional editors and journalists and some of their companies are struggling. It is understandable that they may feel the dark tunnel still seems extremely long for them.
“They and their staff have also suffered hard and long from deep cutbacks, some of which in themselves may prove to have been over-zealous and, indeed, to have added to the regional industry’s difficulties.
“Yes, there have been some harsh lessons and there are still more to come. But what happened to the prediction that half of our regional press would have closed by now?
“Why is it that around two-thirds of the adult population is still reading its local news mountain every week and what’s more the level of trust is maintained?
“And where have all those lucrative advertising pounds that gave local papers a licence to print money for decades been transferred? It has not all gone online or elsewhere so who is to say at least some of it could not be retrieved so long as the still-powerful case for the regional press is delivered properly?”
Bob adds that the economy will bounce back again and websites and searches could not bring in all the business in for advertisers.
He said the opportunities for local newspapers are as clear as ever and “it is only the effort and methods of delivery required that are different”, stressing that readers now expect to find their news when, where and how it suits them.
The Society of Editors boss said that newspapers need to keep pace with upcoming digital developments and this must be done by journalists who can see the possibilities for their audiences, rather than people in the IT department.
Bob wrote: “Every newspaper needs a digital correspondent to annoy us with the relentless pace of innovation. Some of his or her output will be terminally boring but we need to know about the spark that will light next year’s trend. We need trained communicators to ensure readers, viewers, listeners, surfers and, above all, editors know what is coming.”
He said that local newspaper owners should follow the lead of those who are planning new editions or platforms and should aim to increase paginations because people did not want to read “a sorry-looking reflection of a previously healthy and vibrant local paper”.
Added Bob: “Content requires journalists and editors who are highly skilled and motivated to use their inquiring minds and in-built determination to find ways to uncover and deliver the stories their public want and need to read.
“If they identify when and how they want to read them, combine comprehensive, accurate reporting with brave investigations and bold campaigns, their audiences will respond. If only more people would try it…”
His full piece can be read here.