Hot metal, cold type

The end of local newspapers, or the start of something better?

What does your local newspaper mean to you?

For me, it was one of the ways I learned to read, and to learn about the world around me; we got a copy of the (Yorkshire) Evening Post daily in the 1970s. In the late 1980s and early 2000s they had become those things I read for cuttings as much for actual news.

But the newspapers of my youth are not the newspapers of today.

For one thing, the Yorkshire Post and YEP have the same news team. That means most of the non-sports news in your evening paper is the same as in your morning paper. Not only that, your evening paper is printed at the same time as the morning paper, because it has to be delivered from presses near Sheffield. If a story breaks during the day you won’t be reading about it in the paper on the bus or train home.

When it comes to weeklies, the Dewsbury Reporter has almost the same content as the Batley & Birstall News and the Mirfield Reporter1, some of which you could have also read in the daily Yorkshire Evening Post.

The Sheffield Telegraph is a compendium of articles from the (Sheffield) Star. The Star itself is a collection of popular stories from its website, with user-generated comments from its Facebook Page. I could write a whole other entry on the problems I had with the Star during my stint working in Sheffield, and may yet. Good cartoonist though.

Yesterday, Johnston Press announced that it was putting itself up for sale. Johnston owns all of the papers I mentioned above, and more. The Guardian story about this says “over 200”; Wikipedia counts 135 across the UK and Ireland, but let’s not split hairs.

The point is this: lots of titles, but very little news that isn’t syndicated from elsewhere. Sharing content across the group is one thing, but a newspaper that is 90% the same as a sister title is just a waste of newsprint.

You could pull the YP and the Scotsman out as ‘national locals’, or newspapers of record, but not much else.

Newspapers never cover their operating costs from direct sales. They need revenue from advertising sales. When that falls they need to cut costs so they merge editorial teams, close smaller offices, use single printing plants to serve wider and wider areas.

Local news isn’t as local as it used to be. Evening papers aren’t. And I haven’t started on their websites…

If the sale of Johnston Press results is a model that better serves local readers, holding our local leaders to account, with timely, topical and relevant local content then I’m all for it.

I know. What are the chances?

  1. It’s the Dewsbury Reporter series, after all. []