Regional print media: Not aiming higher, but cutting deeper

No real news! Why local and regional papers are on their knees

By Roy Greenslade/Guardian

Just in case you didn't read it, or didn't read all of it, here's the
conclusion to yesterday's commentary by Sean Dooley on the state of
the local and regional press: "Few readers are seeing any mitigating
circumstances as their
cherished local papers are printed earlier and
earlier, further and further away from home, carrying less and less
news of any relevance to their communities."

Dooley knows of what he speaks, having spent more than 40 years in the
newspaper business. And during that time he has witnessed the sales
decline of printed papers.

He spent 18 years as editor of The Sentinel in Stoke (Northcliffe
Media) before leaving in December 2005, during that period when
Northcliffe was engaged on a strategy called Aim Higher. More
properly, of course, it should have been known as Cut Deeper.

For the record, in the final six months of 2005, The Sentinel was
selling an average of 71,386 on weekdays. In the first six months of
last year (the latest ABC figures), The Sentinel's sale was 53,228.
That's a 25.4% fall in five years, a decline that is typical for
Britain's regional dailies.

What's that? They get plenty of readers online. They do? Really? On
the basis of my visit to The Sentinel's site today, I wonder if that
knee-jerk claim is true. I don't have any figures, but I noted the
dearth of comments. There is very little reader participation, a clear
indication - in my humble view - of a lack of traffic.

Examples from today's news page: main news story, one comment; second
news story, two comments; third news story, no comments. Next seven
news stories, just two comments between them.

You have to go to the site map to find a link to blogs. But there is
very little there. The latest contribution to "The Sentinel blog" was
on 16 November, but is is obviously a sort of "how to" guide. There
were up-to-date postings on the community blogs, but zero comments.
Maybe thousands of people are surfing and moving on without bothering
to comment. I suspect the overall usage of a less-than-user-friendly
site is pretty poor.

The point is that Daily Mail & General Trust, desperate to offload its
regional division, is not encouraging - or allowing - Northcliffe to
invest in the future. So, alongside the decline in print, there is no
parallel digital take-off. Part of the reason, surely, is to be found
in Dooley's comment.

There just isn't enough relevant news, not enough genuinely important
information, to attract readers to either platform. That's the real
story of today's local and regional newspaper publishing "industry".

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