How important are local newspapers? Not very, according to the organisers of the London Olympics, whose neglect of local titles wishing to cover the games led to a row that went all the way to the House of Lords. Although the matter has now been resolved, with an additional 39 passes being issued to regional papers, certain publications like the Greenwich News Shopper are still unable to report directly on an event happening on their very doorstep. It is a move that demonstrates the indifference that often greets local newspapers, an indifference born of the erroneous belief that the advent of the Internet and access to free news sources 24 hours a day has put paid to demand for newspaper reports and articles written from a local perspective.
Figures provided by Crowd DNA, for the Newspaper Society’s Loving Local project, show that in the United Kingdom 76 percent of people spend half or more of their money within five miles of their homes, while 68 percent claimed that local media was “relevant to knowing about products and services” in their area. Meanwhile the Internet only managed to come second in the poll, with 46 percent. The data released by Loving Local shows that regional news outlets have access to a captive audience with a desire to be kept informed about local businesses and services. And herein lies the key to the future of local news. Locality.
Thanks to both their print and online presence local news titles are able to reach a broad audience that local advertisers and companies are only too keen to target. Although local newspapers have been suffering a lengthy and severe advertising downturn, they still produce 9.3 percent of all advertising revenue in the United Kingdom. Fostering close links within communities would not only see readers turn to the paper as a trusted news source, but could also afford local news outlets the opportunity to generate greater advertising revenue by pursuing local businesses with an interest in advertising to consumers in the local area.
Trade journalist Robert Niles would take the idea of locality even further, arguing that newspaper chains ought to be broken up and regional titles sold to local owners. Certainly, without the burden of corporate overheads, that are part and parcel of every large newspaper chain, smaller local titles would of course find themselves financially better off. With local owners employing local journalists who produce content that engages directly with local concerns, regional papers could produce valuable, area-specific information that readers could be convinced was worth paying for.