CAN LOCAL PAPERS SURVIVE ALONGSIDE THE BBC?
Some years ago regional papers managed to block the BBC improving their local websites with more news and video content. They claimed their circulation figures were being hit by the publicly funded broadcaster and this would be made worse if the BBC was allowed to upgrade its local website. The net result has been impoverished BBC local websites, the dropping of plans for a BBC Radio Cheshire and a continuing steep decline in traditional newspaper sales.
The threat to the local press came not from the BBC but the availability of on line news and the loss of advertising to the internet. The public who want news of the North were not well served by this ridiculous spat.
There are now signs of a truce between the BBC and local papers. On BBC sites in Leeds and Liverpool “Local Live” is a new initiative which signposts stories from non-BBC outlets including the Huddersfield Examiner, Yorkshire Post and the hyper local Leeds site The City Talking.
This thaw in relations can be put down to the new BBC Director of News James Harding. He came from the editorship of The Times and as a newspaper man was well placed when it came to handing out the olive branches at a recent conference in Salford. He correctly observed that the BBC and local papers were in the same business of informing people about what was going on in the North and holding people to account.
WHO WILL REPORT THE NORTH?
Let’s hope that row is over and the BBC initiative to share stories isn’t cynically connected to charter renewal, but we are still left with an uncertain future about how the North is going to be reported. There is still a strong appetite for local news. Five million people tune in each night to look North, Look North West and the other regional BBC programmes.
While newspapers are seeing their readership of traditional papers haemorrhage, they claim there is a huge migration to reading stories on line. But what is the quality of the journalism available in profusion at the click of a button. There are certainly less professional journalists around to hold our councillors to account and little money for expensive in depth investigations. The internet gives everyone a chance to be a “citizen journalist” but where does fact end and opinion begin?
The newspaper publishers are in a vicious circle. They sack the journalists to maintain profits. There is less quality news, more readers are lost and the cycle begins again.
Who cares if the papers die? I see very few people under 30 actually reading a paper. Alison Gow used to work on the now defunct Liverpool Daily Post. She put the question starkly at the recent Salford conference, “why would you have newspapers when you have better delivery methods by computer, tablet and phone?” The key question is can the newspaper owners make the new model pay? The jury is still out on the limited experiments to make people pay to access content.
We may be looking at a future of papers exclusively on line, social media, citizen journalists, hyper local TV and social media to report the North. Will local TV be part of this? Franchises were issued across the North over a year ago but the owners are struggling to make the economic model work. Good luck to Bay TV in Liverpool which is run by some excellent people that deserve more backing than they have been getting from local business. We wait to see if the stations in places like Manchester and Lancashire get off the ground.