It’s time for local newspaper publishers to launch an extinction rebellion, according to Allan Rennie, of Media Week in Scotland.
Rennie, who formerly edited the Sunday Mail in Glasgow, says local papers face going bust if they continue down the current path they are on.
The rush to grab online ads in the face of the predators of Google and Facebook has only served to accelerate decline.
Just 20 years ago print media generated 50 per cent of every pound of ad spend – today the figure for the whole sector is less than three per cent.
Sources argue that local newspaper executives focused on building digital audience scale in the mistaken belief that advertising revenues would follow.
The result has been a chimera – clickbait articles with no local relevance (10 things you didn’t know about Peppa Pig), sites overloaded with disruptive adverts and editorial teams posted in soulless hubs miles removed from the heart of their communities.
The Lennox Herald, for example, operates from Glasgow and the Dumbarton Reporter and Helensburgh Advertiser from Clydebank.
The report was echoed by Newsworks executive chairman Tracy De Groose who said the model was “broken” and the industry has been “selling the wrong thing for too long”.
“We’ve been selling our advertising space and not our journalism. It has lost us about one billion pounds of ad revenue over the last decade,” she told the Society of Editors.
“Digital advertising is broken. It is dominated by an open marketplace in which content has been sold as one amorphous mass. There is little attention to the quality of the content. Or the attention of the audience.”
The fact is local newspaper advertising cannot compete with the likes of Google, Facebook, Autotrader and Rightmove, who now attract eight times more local business spend than the entire regional press.
Enders Analysis’s solution is not the sticking-plaster funding of local journalists by Google and Facebook, but to go back to the roots of local newspapers, when they were a relevant everyday part of community life.
Enders said: “Critically, a native business would start with the community in mind, not the advertising opportunity.
“Over time some local media have lost their core editorial raison d’être. Local media needs to return to its entrepreneurial roots, with an unashamed mission to champion communities, and to convince citizens, businesses and institutions that an investment in local media is an investment in themselves and the welfare of their community.”
- As well as writing articles, journalists would champion high impact community improvements – including organising public meetings.
- Sales teams would focus on convincing local companies to donate as patrons and sponsors of the media’s sustainable efforts to improve the community.
Enders does hint at the elephant in the room – trying to convince boardrooms and shareholders that the digital ad model is not sustainable, and the need to take a profit hit to invest in community journalism.
“Such transformation takes a long time and a lot of investor and executive patience,” it says.
Bill Heaney, editor of The Dumbarton Democrat, a digital platform at democratonline.net, said: “We do not charge for advertising. Nor do we charge for editorial.
“WE ARE TRULY LOCAL, COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT AND SELF-FINANCED.
“We are FREE to the whole community, a service the public do not have to pay for. We don’t spin, we stir, which is what journalists are supposed to do.
“We shine a light into dark corners of our public services. The journalists at our competitors here are doing a good job in the circumstances.
“Their lawyers advise them against publishing anything that might be challenged in the courts. We are up for it though. It’s publish and be damned here. We look upon threats from lawyers as a badge of honour.”
Sources: Enders Analysis, Society of Editors