Neville Hobson

The local newspaper is dead, long live the local newspaper

The decline in print and the rise in digitalThe closure of printed newspapers around the UK counts new casualties in the battle to stem the tide of declining circulations and the ever-diminishing number of titles in print with news this past week that Trinity Mirror is shutting down seven regional newspapers in southern England.

The news has particular interest to me as my local paper, The Wokingham Times, is one of those casualties.

Founded in 1903, the Times has gone through many evolutions especially during the past decade or so as it changed ownership a few times; and as alternative sources for local news emerged as the internet and the world wide web evolved, more online choices appeared and the ability for anyone and everyone to get online becomes almost ubiquitous and continues to be ever easier, cheaper and faster.

The closure is a picture you could paint in communities up and down the country.

Trinity Mirror, current owner of the title and its siblings in Berkshire (and Surrey), said in its announcement that it intends to develop and grow its digital business around the getreading.co.uk website which offers digital versions of its Berkshire titles – Reading Post, The Bracknell Times and The Wokingham Times – and also delivers content to mobile devices via an app.

It’s not hard to see why Trinity Mirror is making this move. As its statement says:

[…the getreading.co.uk website] has achieved unrivalled market leading penetration in the area – in the last year monthly unique users have grown by 68% (Jan-Oct 213 to Jan-Oct 2014) and the site continues to show phenomenal audience growth.

In its report, Press Gazette quotes Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, from the company’s announcement:

This is a bold digital-only publishing transformation that will re-establish us as a growing media business that delivers the best quality journalism to our digital-savvy audience. We wholeheartedly believe that the future of our business here in Berkshire is online and this is an important and pioneering step that might, in time, be applicable to other existing markets or indeed new ones.

Bold indeed, with the inevitable human cost – 26 job losses in Berkshire (50 in total if you include the other closures, according to reports). The flip side of that is “the creation of around 10 new digital editorial roles and two digital commercial roles,” says Trinity Mirror in its announcement.

The type of hard commercial decisions made that will lead to the closure of seven print newspapers are confronting media companies across the UK and elsewhere – at all levels, nationally, regionally and locally – as trends continue to show the inexorable decline in print and the increasing growth in digital content that meets the preferences and needs of contemporary consumers who want to consume content wherever and whenever they want, with whatever device they wish, comment on and share that content with their networks, repurpose it, create additional insights from it, and more.

The move to digital is indeed inevitable as is the consequent human cost in lost jobs where current skills clearly aren’t what the media companies need as they evolve in the new digital-only environment to survive and grow.

Does it mean there is no place for print any more? Not necessarily – looking at it purely in commercial terms, if your market analysis, business plan and the numbers add up, you may have a workable proposition.

And The Guardian’s report on the Berkshire closures includes this:

The Reading Chronicle, which has been published since 1825, will become the town’s only print title. Editor Lesley Potter said it was a sad day for those losing their jobs and for the people of Reading.

“We have been fierce rivals over the years, but we have always had a healthy respect for one another. We at the Reading Chronicle have absolutely no intention of abandoning print.”

You have to feel a touch of sadness at developments like this even as they mark another milestone in the transition of news and information, how it’s produced and presented to readers, and what they do with it.

So print newspapers gradually vanish but they continue online in name and purpose, mirroring the look, feel and presentation of their analogue forbears.

It’s called progress.

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