Hard-Pressed

In the current economic climate it’s getting hard to find any media success stories. The print journalism industry is no exception, with an ever-intensifying torrent of sob stories gushing from one of the great behemoths of the pre-internet age.

The industry was already struggling due to the advent of online journalism, with newspaper and other news-related websites, such as the BBC, taking much of the readership away from the more expensive print versions. This trend has seen companies such as Daily Mail & General Trust fall out of the FTSE 100 as early as 2007, but recently there has been an increase in the rate of contraction, with Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press and Mecom – all newspaper groups - all falling from the FTSE 250. There now remain just 5 media companies in the FTSE 100, only one of which represents a national newspaper.

However, the real problems for the industry are to be found on a regional level. Newsquest, the owner of many titles across the north-west of the UK, has announced the closure of 11 newspapers providing local community news to towns and cities such as Congleton, Preston and Lancaster. A report by Deloitte has suggested that as much as 10% of print publications will either have to reduce frequency, move online or simply close down altogether. They also encourage newspapers to reduce the amount of content on their websites to drive business back to print, though it remains to be seen whether companies will follow that advice.

Constructive responses to the growing difficulties surrounding the newspaper industry have been few and far between. However, there have been useful proposals made for struggling companies. Stephen Foley, the US Business Correspondent of The Independent, pointed out on his blog that some major daily papers in the US are beginning to dial back their production on certain days of the week, offering slimmed-down versions of their publications instead. They then concentrate their resources on the days when circulation is at its highest – typically Thursday, Friday and Sunday. He suggests that if the industry is to consolidate and survive, it must relinquish the insistence on ‘dailiness’ and move towards a more flexible publication model.

Meanwhile, other bloggers have been advocating a move from print to online for local newspapers, pointing out the need to protect community news and to support local journalism. People need to be made more aware of their immediate social environment, and local journalism has always played an important role in making that happen; surely it is better for the news to survive, albeit in a new form, than simply to wither and die?

The problem is that publishers are afraid of making the jump from print to the web, mainly because it is largely unprecedented in regional journalism. Of course the big nationals have already invested huge amounts of capital on their websites, but there’s the rub: how will small newspapers finance such a move? Whether any brave publishers come up with any answers to these questions remains to be seen, but one hopes that the benefit of continued regional journalism will still be around in years to come.

 Tom King

 

17th December 2008

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