Saving the local press: Is it possible?

If it wasn’t for the paper girl/boy back home, I don’t think I would have ever bothered to read my local newspaper, the Solihull News. This has been confirmed by the fact that I now live in Kingston, where the young deliverer of local news seems to not exist.

I know of my local newspapers, the Kingston Guardian and the Surrey Comet, but I don’t think I would ever part with my pennies to buy a copy, especially when most of the important content can be read online for free.

According to the Culture, Media and Sport committee in the House of Commons in their paper, Future for Local and Regional Media, 90% of adults consume some sort of local media and 75% read a local paper at least weekly. You’re probably thinking that these figures come from the 1960s, but in fact, they’re from 2010.

Local newspapers are in decline. The circulation of local newspapers has declined by a quarter in the last five years (source). Claire Enders, chief executive of Enders Analysis, has predicted that one half of the 1,300 local titles still in production in 2010 will close by 2015.

One major factor why the local industry is declining is because of a huge reduction of advertising revenue. Less money means less advertising. As we move forward technologically, the quaintness and charm of the local newspaper seems a tad mite in comparison. People watch television and take to Twitter to get their local news now. Eight years ago, an elderly lady tipped me £5 on my paper round, but you’d be hard-pushed to find such generosity for the local commodity these days.

But of course the Government, in their 2010 paper, would say that local journalism does not need subsidising by the state. Instead, they suggest consolidation and synergy. However, if all local titles found a partners to join with to create one local newspaper in a community, surely journalists would lose their jobs, so there would be less “eyes on the ground”. Ross Hawkes, in the Mair, Fowler and Reeves collection, What do we mean by local?, said that “hyperlocal journalists can understand the needs and desires of the audience they are serving” (2012). Surely, then, consolidation is not what is needed to save the local press.

What is, then? Perhaps newspapers need to go totally free like The London Evening Standard, which is in its third year of being the commuters’ costless chum and still making profit. As Hawkes argues, local journalism needs saving because it cannot be replaced. Citizen contributions and hyperlocal start-ups are good, but is it just information as opposed to actual journalism?

Perhaps only time will tell what is in store for the local press.

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