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Local newspapers face ‘severe difficulties’ in 2023, industry warned

Nic NewmanLocal newspapers could face “severe difficulties” or even closure in print in the coming months, journalism academics have warned.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is predicting that regional print titles will be “especially vulnerable” in 2023 due to issues including the ongoing energy crisis and inflation.

In its annual report which predicts industry trends for the forthcoming year, the Institute said it expected to see more local papers “slim down” their editions, decrease their publication frequency or even stop printing entirely during this year.

Senior research associate Nic Newman cited Newsquest’s decision last year to close five print former Archant print titles, which at the time were described as “too far gone” to survive, as an example of the sector’s vulnerability.

Nic, pictured, wrote: “Any publication that still has a heavy dependence on print circulation or advertising revenue is likely to run into severe difficulties this year.

“Regional and local newspapers are especially vulnerable, potentially leading to more government intervention in some countries to support the sector.”

“Expect more newspapers to slim down editions, stop seven day a week publication, and even close print editions altogether. Regional and local titles seem most vulnerable – Newsquest in the UK has recently converted five regional titles – along with a host of magazine titles that have already moved to an online-only model.

“With fewer copies being sold, distribution networks are also weakening and expect some to follow the example of US publishers in leveraging the public mail or even starting their own delivery businesses. Green consumerism could add further pressure to move away from print.”

However, Nic went on to predict a “boon” for local digital newsletters in 2023 and highlighted success stories such as the Manchester Mill and Sheffield Tribune, which both recently celebrated significant milestones for paid subscriptions, as well as projects by larger publishers like Reach plc.

In last year’s report, the Institute, which is based at the University of Oxford, had predicted titles such as the Mill and the Tribune sister would forge a new business model that could be followed elsewhere.

In this year’s assessment, Nic wrote: “Newsletters don’t require constant updates and off-the-shelf tools such as Substack can help entrepreneurs to create content and make money with a few clicks.

“These low-cost models have provided a blueprint for how local media could develop in the future.”

He added: “In the UK, independent local news outlets the Manchester Mill, Liverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune have all reported encouraging growth in the number of paying email newsletter subscribers.

“Traditional outlets are getting in on the act too, with regional publisher Reach setting up an Email Innovation Lab with the help of Google funding.

“This will experiment with passion based newsletters centred on communities of interest around Bristol and new borough-based newsletters in parts of London.”

The predictions were made following a survey of 303 media industry leaders around the world, with around one-fifth of respondents coming from UK publishers.