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Digital transition still ‘at early stage’ says report

The transition to a digital future in the local news industry is still “at an early stage” according to a major new report carried out by the Reuters Institute.

Researchers interviewed 48 editors, reporters, and commercial directors at newspapers in the UK, France, Germany and Finland, including representatives from the Trinity Mirror-owned Huddersfield Examiner and the family-owned Kent Messenger.

Their report, published today, praises the efforts being made by publishers to transition to a new digital business model and says local media remains a highly trusted source of news.

But it also highlights the challenges facing the industry including recruitment and retention of young journalists, with one local publisher saying local media was seen as “not cool.”

Key findings in the report, entitled The Digital Transition of Local News, include:

• Local news organisations are investing in a digital future, including creating digital first newsrooms.

• Local and regional outlets compete for advertising with platform companies such as Google and Facebook, but also rely on these companies to reach online audiences.

• Local media parent companies and individual titles and groups are pursuing three distinct strategies: national scale, local depth and regional breadth.

• In the overall local news landscape, some local news outlets have been forced to shut offices or close completely, while others have consolidated.

The report says that the move towards embracing a digital future is “critically important for the future of local news, both as a business and as a part of local communities.”

It goes on: “Most of the local news organisations we cover here still generate 80–90pc of their revenues – and sometimes more – from legacy print operations that are in clear structural decline.

“Although many of them are building impressive new digital offerings, across their websites, social media accounts, and other channels, they have significantly lower reach among younger people in their communities than they have had historically among their older print readers.

“The traditional bundle of local news combined with other information about the weather, movie listings, sports results, and various forms of advertising is less attractive to younger users, and many interviewees believe that the classic combination of a traditional package overwhelmingly funded through advertising will not remain the mainstay of local journalism.”

The report praises the publishers’ “commitment to continued experimentation” and recognition of the “pressing need to continue to evolve the ways they serve their local communities through their journalism.”

But it adds: “For all the impressive work already done, the digital transition of local news is still clearly at an early stage.”

The report also contrasted the strategy of “local depth” pursued by the likes of the KM Group with the “national scale” approach adopted by bigger publishers.

Of the latter, it said: “These companies tend to feature centralised newsrooms producing online content that can then be shared across multiple newspapers and adapted to local  markets.”

By contrast, smaller publishers “are often highly tailored to the specific areas they serve but tend to have fewer resources and hence less complex infrastructures for digital production than other companies in the sample.

“Their emphasis on a more targeted geographic area and audience also make them less able to realise economies of scale and more dependent on local support in the long run.”

The report said that local journalism remains valued and trusted by audiences and that many local and regional media organisations are optimistic about the future of local news.

However Examiner editor Wayne Ankers, of those interviewed as part of the research, acknowledged the challenge of getting readers to trust the digital brand in the same way as the print brand.

“People don’t know what the Examiner stands for digitally, whereas they do know what we stand for print-wise. So, it’s getting people to trust us as a digital brand. I think that, once we’ve cracked that, our audience will continue to grow,” he said.

Geraldine Allinson, chairman of KM Media Group, named retaining and attracting new talent as another key challenge.

“Young people don’t see newspapers as a place where there’s going to be huge opportunities, so I think there’s that un-sexy, not cool side of things. Plus, a lot of people are very talented,” she said.

“Expecting people to do what they do for the money we can afford to pay them when other companies pay them a lot more is another difficult issue.”

The report’s co-author Joy Jenkins said: “Local newspapers, like other legacy media, are facing major challenges and no longer hold the dominant market position they once did.  But the newspapers in this report are also developing innovative ways to respond, from paid solutions journalism to collaborating with other newsrooms on digital initiatives to diversified business models, including in-house marketing firms, custom publishing, and events.

“They also enjoy a level of recognition and trust from their communities that will no doubt aid their continued transition.”

Co-author Rasmus Kleis Nielsen added: “Local news is incredibly important for making sure people are informed about their communities and empowered to engage in them. It is also clear that the business model based on advertising that historically has funded local news is seriously challenged today.

“That is why it is so encouraging we have identified several different examples of how local newspapers are working to reinvent their journalism and their business to adapt to an increasingly digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environment.”


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  • April 25, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Perhaps transition is still in the early stage because newspapers have failed online after several years of trying. I am not on about clicks but making money. We are now seeing more video adverts locally and on national websites which slow and frustrate the reader experience even more. How many clicks can be discounted because they last seconds before the reader gives up? Of course recruitment is a problem, you don’t get a degree to work for little more than the minimum wage and that’s not going to change. Trusted brands? Don’t be daft, it’s about chasing clicks through lifted rubbish and weather scare stories on my local JP website.

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  • April 25, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    If digital news sites cannot be monetised by now ,ten years in from their primary launches, they never will be.
    The odd scrapings for clicks or ‘sponsored content’ are simply crumbs on the table, the real money would come from businesses and brands eager to reach a specific demographic or local market, neither of which can be reached via parochial publishers websites.
    Having abandoned print,lost their markets in daily and weekly newspaper communities ,spectacularly failed to make substantial and sustainable revenues from online news offerings( even with the vast numbers the publishers claim are seeing their sites) there really is no long term financial future for regional press websites who are trying to compete with national and global media who do it far better, they should also not be surprised ‘talented’ young people are giving them a wide berth considering the reputation all have for offloading their established talent in favour of the cheap and easy to manipulate replacements easily impressed by a meaningless title.
    Throwing the hyper local audiences out with the dumbed down local paper bathwater was what killed the industry and no amount of excuse making or buying time will undo the damage already done.

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  • April 25, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    What a pointless report simply telling us what we already know and with key points a schools child could have arrived at.
    With regards to the growing number of hyper local independent publishers thriving across the uk, the report completely misses the point,stating;
    “Their emphasis on a more targeted geographic area and audience also make them less able to realise economies of scale and more dependent on local support..”
    ….that’s their whole purpose in being!

    Their main USP is that they’re hyper local and providing ground level community reportage in a defined area, community or geographical territory, a depth of coverage the old publishers no longer fulfil they aren’t after economy of scale.

    Classic case of someone producing a worthless report to state the obvious.

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  • April 25, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    “….digital transition of local news is still clearly at an early stage.”
    It’s not at an early stage, it’s just not progressed or taken off, and let’s face it after this amount of time it’s not likely to either

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  • April 25, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    The fact the independent publishers are succeeding in producing newspapers local people want to read and businesses are supporting by advertising in them to reach their vast localised audiences negates the necessity or need for a digital alternative,
    The report seems blinkered in the view that it’s digital or nothing, it is for the big groups whose printed output has lost its way and alienated its audience.not so for the smaller ones who are picking up that market.

    Indeed a pointless report and one which misses or misinterprets what’s actually happening locally across the uk

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  • April 25, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    So, traditional print papers attract an older readership whilst there’s less interest from the younger person
    And some local news outlets have been forced to shut offices or close completely, while others have consolidated

    And someone commission this fascinating report did they?

    Sometimes I despair, I really do

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  • April 26, 2018 at 12:28 am

    ‘early stages’ haha haha. It’s been trying for 10 years to monetise digital and still no success.. More like terminal stages. The weekly newspaper industry has been left in tatters by greedy directors who see digital as a big Big money saver. However the failure to monetise it is fatal. Unfortunately many many great newspapers have been degraded due to the mis-management and blind greed of incompetent and stubborn bosses. I’ve been nagging on about this for a few years now, at last I am being proved right.

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