MEDIA REVIEW: Local newspapers could be facing ‘severe difficulties’


A new report warns that local newspapers could face ‘severe difficulties’ or even closure in print in the coming months. HoldtheFrontPage reports that The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) is predicting that regional print titles will be ‘especially vulnerable’ in 2023 due to a variety of issues including the ongoing energy crisis and inflation.

In its annual report, RISJ said it expected to see more local papers ‘slim down’ their editions; decrease their publication frequency; or even stop printing entirely during this year.

RISJ senior research associate, Nic Newman, cites Newsquest’s decision last year to close five former Archant print titles which at the time were described as ‘too far gone’ to survive, as an example of the sector’s vulnerability.

Newman declares: ‘Any publication that still has a heavy dependence on print circulation or advertising revenue is likely to run into severe difficulties this year. Regional and local newspapers are especially vulnerable – potentially leading to more government intervention in some countries to support the sector.

‘Expect more newspapers to slim down editions; stop seven day a week publication; and even close print editions altogether. Regional and local titles seem most vulnerable – Newsquest in the UK has recently converted five regional titles – along with a host of magazine titles that have already moved to an online-only model.

‘With fewer copies being sold, distribution networks are also weakening and expect some to follow the example of US publishers in leveraging the public mail or even starting their own delivery businesses. Green consumerism could add further pressure to move away from print.’

However, Newman predicts a ‘boon’ for local digital newsletters in 2023 and highlighted success stories such as the Manchester Mill and Sheffield Tribune, which both recently celebrated significant milestones for paid subscriptions, as well as projects by larger publishers like Reach plc.

In this year’s assessment, Newman explains: ‘Newsletters don’t require constant updates and off-the-shelf tools such as Substack can help entrepreneurs to create content and make money with a few clicks. These low-cost models have provided a blueprint for how local media could develop in the future’.

He added: ‘In the UK, independent local news outlets the Manchester MillLiverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune have all reported encouraging growth in the number of paying email newsletter subscribers. Traditional outlets are getting in on the act too, with regional publisher Reach setting up an Email Innovation Lab with the help of Google funding. This will experiment with passion-based newsletters centred on communities of interest around Bristol and new borough-based newsletters in parts of London’.

The predictions were made following a survey of 303 media industry leaders around the world, with around one-fifth of respondents coming from UK publishers.

Five new prizes introduced to Scottish Press Awards
Five new prizes, specifically for local and regional journalists, will feature in this year’s annual Scottish Press Awards. The new categories are for Local Feature Writer of the Year, Local Campaign of the Year, Local Reporter of the Year, Regional Feature Writer of the Year and Regional Reporter of the Year.

The awards scheme, now in its 44th year, will cover a record total of 34 different categories and is now welcoming entries with a closing date of 6 February. The local categories are specifically for small print or online publications serving distinct communities, such as traditional weekly newspapers, while regional awards are for journalists working in larger regional daily or city-wide publications and websites.

Scottish Newspaper Society director, John McLellan, who oversees the awards, explains: ‘The challenges facing the industry might change but they don’t diminish, and neither does the quality of journalism produced by Scottish news publishers every day. Despite sparing costs, our sector continues to innovate to keep the public supplied with reliable and trustworthy information. This year’s event is moving back to its traditional spring timing, and we are once again looking forward to a showcase of the best in Scottish journalism’.

The awards ceremony and dinner will return to an earlier slot in the year and will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton Glasgow Central on Wednesday 7 June. Entries must be for works published between 1 January and 31 December 2022, and can be submitted until Thursday 6 February. More information and a full list of award categories can be found here.

SoE president warns of ‘worrying threat’ to press freedom

Alarming legislative proposals, such as that contained within the National Security Bill, are posing a ‘worrying threat’ to press freedom, the Society of Editors (SoE) president Kamal Ahmed, who began his career in journalism in Dumbarton,  has warned.

Speaking to the i daily newspaper for an article on restrictions to press freedom, Kamal said that in recent years UK Government legislation was combining with restrictions on open justice and government ‘to create a hostile environment for freedom of expression and the public’s right to know,’ and that matters of ‘significant public interest’ risked going unreported as a result.

Kamal warned: ‘The last few years have seen a number of new and worrying threats to press freedom. From alarming legislative proposals that threaten to silence whistle-blowers and stifle investigations to a rise in abusive litigation and restrictions on open justice and open government – all have combined to create a hostile environment for freedom of expression and the public’s right to know. A free press remains essential to any healthy democracy and journalists must be free from unnecessary restrictions. Without press freedom, matters of significant public interest will go unreported and those that wish to evade scrutiny will be free to do so. Our job, as it has been for centuries, is to be the eyes and ears of the public’.

Kamal’s comments in the i newspaper follow the publication last week of a book by renowned barrister Geoffrey Robertson KC entitled Lawfare: How Russians, the Rich and the Government Try to Prevent Free Speech and How to Stop Them. In the book, Robertson warns that secrecy is increasing and that government proposals to enhance free speech, such as that contained within what he calls ‘squalid’ and ‘dishonest’ Bill of Rights legislation, would do ‘exactly the opposite of what it pretends to do’.

Prime Minister’s friend gets major political job
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has hired his friend, James Forsyth, The Spectator’s political editor and a columnist for The Times, as his new political secretary in No.10.

Forsyth will bolster Sunak’s key Downing Street team as the Prime Minister faces the daunting challenge of overcoming a double-digit deficit in most election polls. Both men were pupils at top public school Winchester College.

Sunak’s latest recruit is married to Allegra Stratton, the former broadcaster turned political operator who chose to resign over the Partygate scandal. She remained for a long time the only individual to lose their job over the illicit Downing Street parties. Forsyth’s appointment is a political one with no cost to the taxpayer.

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Caithness-born Hamish Mackay is now in his 57th year as an occasional/sometimes regular contributor to the UK’s exceedingly diverse media market

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