Stop Press: The Future of Local Print

In a rapidly evolving media landscape, nowhere is the pace of change and its wide ranging impacts more stark than in regional media. With a market trend of circulation decline, dailies reducing output to weekly, and some print titles ceasing altogether, it seems the regional press has reached a critical point. To mark Local Newspaper Week (16th – 22nd May) I felt it would be a good time to take the temperature of the industry.

I’m a newspaper geek, and the tactile nature of print is something I feel is important. Having said this, with circulation of print titles eroded by a new digital age, many have had to change or die. Digital is key, but as regional newspaper stalwart Peter Barron noted on his departure from a 17 year tenure as editor of the Northern Echo, it need to be about much more than clickbait.

From a communications perspective, newspapers still matter. A lot. ‘Experts’ predicted the rise of ‘hyperlocal’ output as long as five years ago – something that we haven’t really seen come to the fore in a meaningful way. This was meant to be both a threat and an opportunity to regional titles, but in reality, little has changed.

The UK regional press landscape is dominated by two giants: Johnston Press (Yorkshire Post, Wakefield Express, Sheffield Star to name a few) and Trinity Mirror (Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News and the Newcastle Journal for example). The industry has seen heavy consolidation, and many independents have been swallowed up or disappeared altogether. Interestingly, both have made recent forays into national print publications. Johnston made the first move, when they bought ‘i’ as The Independent went online only. Trinity Mirror responded by launching their own ill-fated ‘New Day’ whose intentions were sound, but were always on the back-foot tactically and without any firm direction. This appetite, however, shows that there is fight in these publishing houses yet.

Local and regional newsprint (there is a distinction) still has a far better idea of the temperature of its readers. It can take the pulse of a region and represent its people at the highest level. Two instances really stand out for me in recent years: The Yorkshire Post’s loneliness campaign and the Northern Echo’s quite brilliant response to the Teesside steel crisis. Both brought out the best in regional journalism, and showcased why they still remain relevant to different sections of society.

One area where print comes into its own, is in business. Business journalists are still seen as well-respected figures in any town or city big enough to warrant a local paper. They often have the ear of many companies from across sectors, and of the business community. Any company with a B2B focus should ignore regional press at its peril.

This isn’t to say regional journalism is perfect. It’s not, and I’m sure many in the media would readily agree. But one thing is for sure, its future is worth fighting for. So head out and buy a newspaper this Local Newspaper Week, you might just be surprised at what you come across.