Secondo quanto riportato dall’Economist, l’editore ‘Trinity Mirror‘ è in procinto di acquisire ‘Local World‘, una catena di giornali locali che racchiude 83 testate, per 220 milioni di sterline. Un fatto destinato a influenzare l’intero mercato dell’editoria britannica, secondo l’analista della compagnia di brokeraggio Alex DeGroote.
Dal 2008 giornali come il ‘Manchester Evening News’, il ‘Birmingham Mail’ e ‘Express & Star’ – lo si può vedere nel grafico in pagina – hanno perso circa la metà dei loro lettori cartacei, spiega l’Economist, e nell’ultimo decennio hanno chiuso più di duecento testate locali. Mentre a crescere, per i locali come per i nazionali del resto, è il numero di lettori sul web, composto in larga parte da giovani “meno propensi a pagare per i contenuti”, ricorda il settimanale londinese.
Anche i giornali locali britannici, dunque, si stanno interrogando su come ottenere ricavi dai lettori digitali; nel frattempo, prosegue l’Econimist, le testate hanno cominciato a chiedere ai propri redattori “di essere multimediali”, in grado cioè di caricare foto e video su internet direttamente dagli smartphone, e di realizzare reportage basati su dati precisi anche a livello locale.
C’è anche chi, come nel caso di ‘Express & Star’, sta vagliando l’ipotesi di lanciare strumenti condivisi con il pubblico e i lettori e che permettano a qualsiasi utente del sito di caricare in autonomia contenuti multimediali.
WHEN Mike Brooke started out in journalism in the 1960s, regional newsrooms were buzzing. The paper he worked on had a dozen reporters to track down stories. Now Mr Brooke covers the news by himself in a “media centre” in the East End of London. Although his organisation breaks local news stories online, he rarely goes out to do reporting. Local papers used to be “the pillar of the community”, he sighs, but now mostly just fill space.
The past few years have been difficult for the newspaper industry. But the decline of regional papers, which relied more on now-extinct classified advertisements, has been particularly steep. Over the past decade just over 200 titles have closed (over half of them free). Since 2008 the number of print readers at titles such as the Manchester Evening News, the Birmingham Mail and the Midlands’ Express & Star has fallen by half (see chart). This has troubled politicians and media types alike. In January James Harding, the director of BBC News, argued that as parts of Britain were gaining more devolved powers, the decline of local news created a “democratic deficit”. George Osborne, the chancellor, has mooted a business-rate relief for local papers in England.
A deal confirmed on October 28th could show the industry in a different light. Trinity Mirror, a newspaper publisher, confirmed that it would acquire Local World, a regional press chain of 83 print titles. The deal, worth £220m ($339m) and due to take place on November 13th, is a “game changer for the industry”, says Alex DeGroote, a media analyst at Peel Hunt, a stockbroking firm. It hints at how papers have had to adapt, and at their possible future.
As well as having fewer journalists, most local papers have scaled back on sub-editors, designers and photographers. Instead, at some publications employees are encouraged to be “multimedia” journalists, explains Henry Faure Walker, the chief executive of Newsquest, the second-biggest publisher of local newspapers in Britain, and to upload photos from their smartphones to the internet.
Increasingly, many local papers are also relying on amateur content. The Wolverhampton-based Express & Star, the biggest regional newspaper outside London, still sends journalists to places such as the migrant camps in Calais or to Kenya to report on the work of charities based in the Midlands. But it too is going to start up a “user-generated content desk”, says Keith Harrison, its editor, which will take contributions from the public.
Many journalists gripe that staff cuts, combined with increased competition from free regional news provided by the BBC, has stopped them from doing the work that matters most, such as investigating local authorities. This may indeed be the case, but many publications could also be more innovative. “To some degree local journalism has fallen into the trap of thinking it is ‘All the President’s Men’, but in Hull,” says Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, a research firm. More journalists should be doing data-driven stories about the local area, he thinks. This would have the advantage of giving local papers a distinctive identity, thus helping them to compete with generic online news.
Boosters hope that the deal between Trinity Mirror and Local World, bringing economies of scale, will create room for more investment in journalism. Online traffic has grown at most regional newspapers—though, like national papers, they are still working out how to make money from these digital readers, who are younger and less willing to pay for content. Meanwhile wonks at the BBC have considered commissioning local journalists to boost the industry. Regional papers may never return to the days of 12-strong teams prowling town halls. But they will not die out just yet.