Tuesday 3 March 2015

On being relevant

The latest circulation figures for local weekly newspapers in Wales (BBC article here) show that the slide in sales is continuing and in some cases picking up speed, especially in the Valleys and parts of the south-east where some titles lost 20% or more of their readership last year.

Closer to home, the Carmarthen Journal was down to 12,488 (-8.9%) in 2014, the Llanelli Star down to 9,943 (-10.9%), the Western Telegraph down 12.4% at 13,806, and the South Wales Guardian down 7.9% at 4,824.

The least worst performer, somewhat ironically, was the poor old Tivyside Advertiser, down just 5.9% at 5,714. The newspaper was stripped of its editor at the end of 2014 and is now down to two full-time journalists.

Revamps, relaunches, redesigns, hirings and firings have all come and gone, and still the slide continues.

The same is true across the rest of the UK, with practically any title you can think of, daily or weekly, in long-term decline. The figures are truly staggering. The Guardian recently analysed the figures for the last six years which showed, for example, that the Daily Telegraph lost 40.6% of its circulation over the period, while the Times dropped 35.5%. At the other end of the market, the Sun also shed a third of its sales.

A large part of the decline can be attributed to the switch from newsprint to online readership, but the bad news for the three Local World titles (Carmarthen Journal, Llanelli Star and South Wales Evening Post - down 9.8% at 27,589) is that their online offering has become all but unreadable, with unwanted pop-ups and advertising videos obscuring stories, taking over your tablet or laptop and making for a very frustrating experience.

There is no silver bullet waiting to be discovered to halt the slide, but the weekly titles need to find ways of making themselves more relevant to their readers and attract new readers in the 30-60 age range.

Focusing on local news is easy enough to say but expensive to deliver. The newsprint versions of the local titles also suffer from the perennial problem of not being able to tackle fast moving stories. The tragic disappearance of Cameron Comey, the 11 year-old who fell into the Tywi, is a case in point. No matter how good a weekly's coverage is, it will always be several steps behind online and broadcast media.

Where local papers do have a potential advantage is in old-fashioned campaigning journalism - something you will never get from the BBC.

There is no shortage of issues waiting for a campaign in Carmarthenshire: the NHS; ambulances; the police helicopter; changes and cutbacks in social care; the council's local development plan; major developments such as the Carmarthen West planning brief; the state of the roads; schools; council whistleblowers and any number of other council scandals and failings.

Campaigning means more than just reporting and relaying official statements, and it inevitably means confronting powerful vested interests - Hywel Dda, the council, the Labour Party to name a few.

At their best, local newspapers can be catalysts for change, and to do that they need to be a lot less respectful of authority.

In Pembrokeshire the launch of the Pembrokeshire Herald shook up the far too cosy relationship which had developed between the press and the council, and there is potential for the same to happen in Carmarthenshire with the launch on Friday this week of the Carmarthenshire Herald and the Llanelli Herald.

There are interesting times ahead.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes it would be an asset to the public interest if the "HERALDS" did report matters which PUBLIC BODIES would rather keep quiet about. To have to rely on the spin sent out by the CCC is not good enough. I did contact the SOUTH WALES GUARDIAN when LINDA REES JONES&CEO would not discuss my disclosures with me and how they were handled. The paper was either running scared after the CCC withdrawing advertising or because I was PONTYBEREM based and out of their area, their excuse after taking legal advice.

I really think this council have used coercion on the local news media into being very, very careful what stories they publish. The CCC is successfully curtailing local media's freedom of speech & expression thus lessening platforms for the public's right to know. AS I have mentioned before, you bloggers are the only true outlet for freedom of speech and expression whether by Complainants or Whistleblowers.

The trouble is not everyone looks at your BLOGS such as CCC employees, members and the majority of the public. The CCC publicity machine and no doubt the CEO will want to be kept updated hoping his libel claim against CAEBRWYN has born fruit and put the frighteners on your willingness to supply this platform (I don't think his strategy has worked as well as he hoped as you all seem to be carrying on not pulling your punches).

These two HERALDS could learn a lot from you bloggers though they would need to check out how the stories are evidenced first before they publish. The CCC has a lot to answer for. So many episodes of failure to look after the interests of the public and service users.

Because of how they acted on my disclosure it has coloured my ability to appreciate the good work that most CCC employees do which is such a shame. Just seeing their LOGO depresses me without even seeing the CEO's smiling face produced for his publicity shots. HE, his officers and EXECUTIVE has let us all down though most of us don't realise the damage he and his supporters have done to trust in public bodies.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)