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Dyson at Large: The growing regionalisation of local news

I was saddened to read this report on HoldtheFrontPage earlier this month: Sister dailies’ print operations to merge in latest ‘Live’ rollout.

The story – to summarise – told of plans to merge the print teams who produce the Manchester Evening News and Huddersfield Daily Examiner newspapers into one unit, based in Manchester.

This latest efficiency drive by Trinity Mirror (now known as Reach but, as with the renaming of ‘linesmen’ as ‘assistant referees’, I just can’t do it) will result in a net loss of seven roles, with a ‘marginal’ increase in staffing levels in Manchester.

But I’m not commenting on the actual staffing reductions involved: after all, I’ve not seen the restructuring documents, I’m not privy to the various ‘working from home’ proposals, nor to the separate digital resources that the company might argue make these changes viable.

The Examiner launched its campaign in 2016

Instead, I’m just voicing concern at what this increasing regionalisation of what were always meant to be local newspapers might mean for the wider industry and its audiences.

The idea that Huddersfield’s daily newspaper can now be effortlessly created 24 miles away in Manchester – on t’other side of Pennines – led me to consider the potential upshots for other much-loved, historical and once proudly local tomes.

Because if Trinity Mirror feel that this is the way to go, and if the closely watching Newsquest and Johnston Press follow suit, then we could shortly see the same happen to numerous dailies. Keeping that ‘24 miles’ in mind for a moment, here are just a few possible examples:

  • The Coventry Telegraph’s staff, currently based in, er, Coventry, merged into a single print team with the Birmingham Mail, in an office 23 miles up the road.
  • The Greenock Telegraph’s staff, currently based in Greenock, merged with the Evening Times in Glasgow, an office again based 23 miles away.
  • The Derby Telegraph’s staff, currently based in Derby, merged with the Nottingham Post, in an office only 16 miles away.

Do you see what I mean? Map the geographies of dozens of other supposedly ‘local’ newspapers with their nearest ‘sister’ titles, and you’ll soon realise how many are within that 24-mile distance of the other.

I’m not for a moment trying to invite the inevitable wrath from the editors-in-chief of the above publishers at my comparisons: we all know the pressures, we all realise that plc-owned newspapers must find efficiencies, and we all realise that they – the bosses – are in a tight spot for their next savings.

But whatever the undoubtedly honest plans of current editorial leaders, I see the inevitable risk that the remaining reporting resources in smaller urban areas will continue to be chipped away at or even disappear in future target-setting. This ongoing drive for more cuts could mean:

  • Larger towns and cities taking over the newspaper staff of smaller towns or cities, relocating them (those who aren’t made redundant) away from their original bases.
  • The remaining readers of those smaller newspapers increasingly feeling that the journalism they are reading has decreasing knowledge, poorer accuracy and less feel for the detail of their areas.
  • This falling faith in local newspapers damaging the trust that those brands’ online versions were hoping, nay praying, to inherit.

How long will it be before the likes of Barrow, Oxford, Newport and Portsmouth – to name just four random and far-flung examples – have no local newspaper office, printed publication or even an established website that can honestly be called their own?

The growing regionalisation of local news: that’s the topic that someone, somewhere should be insisting tops the bill at the next Society of Editors’ conference in Manchester this November.

13 comments

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  • July 18, 2018 at 9:28 am
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    agree with this 100 per cent. on my JP weekly we used nothing that either hadn’t happened on our sales area or happened to someone living on it.
    Now JP, starving its weeklies of reporters and experience, fills the gaps in its poor local news gathering by throwing in pieces are way off beat. Its web sites are worse, grabbing anything that might make a click or two. Since many JP papers do not even have a single reporter based in towns of about 40,000 people they miss so much local news
    The staff strive hard, but the paper is no longer local, just a ragbag of whatever fills the pre-ordained shapes. JP is not alone, the other weeklies have gone much the same way. The tumbling circulations reflect the failure of this quick-fill policy. There will be no turning back, just the turning off of the lights.

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  • July 18, 2018 at 4:45 pm
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    Six months ago, I lost my job due to TM’s – sorry, Reach Plc’s – regionalisation. Now, the local news that I wrote is being written 30 miles away by a reporter in another county, with no/little local knowledge, pretending to be local to the readers.

    Quality is now just a byword or irrelevance to media bosses who just want clicks. So, local stories are being replaced by crass, clickbait articles which look like they’ve been written by or are aimed at 10-year-olds or are adverts thinly disguised as news. Even the readers’ comments show they can see this through this farce.

    But, of course, as we all know, this is just the controlled demolition/slitting your own throat of newspapers by newspaper/media bosses, despite claims they are ‘still passionate about print’.

    Instead, they are putting all their eggs in one web basket, giving it away for free and just hoping that advertising can pay for it all.

    Thoroughly depressing and bonkers.

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  • July 18, 2018 at 6:11 pm
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    Hardly any of the ‘local’ papers owned by Reach, Newsquest and Johnston are exclusively made up of local news now – indeed, with ridiculously low story counts and pagination they hardly contain any news at all.
    Incidentally, of the examples quoted by Mr Dyson, I was under the distinct impression that the Coventry Telegraph print team (the remaining sub or two, that is) moved to Birmingham some time ago, to Fort Dunlop and now the tiny office that the few remaining staff of the former Post & Mail empire now occupy in the city centre.

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  • July 19, 2018 at 2:43 pm
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    Tippex. Sadly you are spot on. About 2005 I detected a tipping point. Actually it was political piece that was nothing to do with our patch on a JP paper but was carried at the insistence of a weak so-called group editor because he was chummy with the politician. This was despite the protests of local staff. There was also the cosying up to councils to protect any advertising from them. (we know where this led). It all proved the disastrous thin end of a very big wedge that took circulation down from about 14,000 to about 4,000. Well done JP management.–

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  • July 19, 2018 at 4:12 pm
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    How local is local? I’m sure within the tiniest of towns there are people who think their (probably now closed) weekly wasn’t local enough.

    No journalist wants to see titles close, and we all lament it when it does, but I’ve never seen anyone come up with a decent alternative in the face of dwindling newspaper sales – apart from building a digital audience.

    If everyone and their dog was still buying their local paper, would this be happening?

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  • July 19, 2018 at 10:14 pm
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    yorskshire hack. Everyone and their dog would still be buying a lot more papers if the big companies had not wrecked them in favour of websites that do not not make enough money, even now.

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  • July 20, 2018 at 12:19 am
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    Mr Dyson is right in his observations, unforunately he is about a decade too late. In the goold old days, the claim used to be made moving a newspaper office from a small town to a central location would typically lead to a ten per cent reduction in readership over the following months. Such declines in circulation are now common place. Sadly, the cost savings involved far outweigh any decline in circulation revenues, and, of course, the advertising rates never fall to reflect this decline in readership. Newspapers and their websites still make good money, but they do so only having undergone the sort of savage cost savings the industry has become used to. It is a sad fact that this trend will continue.

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  • July 20, 2018 at 10:21 am
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    Tippex: you’re comment is spot on re. daily production staff and small weeklies moving reporters out to offices in larger nearby towns/cities. It’s been happening for yeas. My concern now, in 2018, is whether this is going too far, and will it eventually result in some dailies having no hacks permanently based in the town/city they supposedly serve? It’s a balance because of the need for efficiencies. But no-one at all on the ground would be wrong.

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  • July 21, 2018 at 2:27 am
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    Basically, you don’t have to be a business genius to know that any business that can only maintain its profit margins by hacking bits off itself and getting rid of the very people that generate its profits, is not viable and has a bleak future.

    Add to that, the deliberate deconstruction of the print side and the willful shedding of newspaper readers – the only readers who actually pay for the product, because online readers certainly don’t.

    Then, the final whammy, you give the product away for free on the web, just hoping advertisers will advertise with you instead of Google, Facebook etc, then anyone can see you’re in big trouble.

    The worst part of it is that the actions of those in charge of the business are actually accelerating the decline.

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  • July 21, 2018 at 5:16 pm
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    Unless I’m mistaken, no-one has said reporters in Huddersfield are going to be based in Manchester (not that the MEN is based in Manchester itself, of course!) To that end, it surely is no different to the regionalisation of production roles which has been overseen by editors, yourself included, for over a decade now. All the risks you highlight were as applicable in 2008 as they are in 2018 – what’s changed?

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  • July 24, 2018 at 9:36 am
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    Steve D. I know of one regional that has no reporters in any of the large towns it is supposed to cover, except the one where its office is based. Needless to say sales dived disastrously.

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  • July 24, 2018 at 4:19 pm
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    Tippex: if nothing’s changed, good news. But I think we all know it has, and is with other groups as well. Eg, see today’s story about the Northern Echo.

    paperboy: I would be very interested in the details about this regional that has no reporters in any of the large towns it is supposed to cover. Please email me – confidence assured – at steve.dysonmedia@gmail.com … a tip fee for good info will apply.

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