John Shewell: Collaborate with local media or watch it die

'Ninety per cent of paid-for weekly local and regional papers in the UK recorded year-on-year falls in circulation in the first-half of 2010' screamed the Press Gazette when they announced the Audit Bureau of Circulation figures last month.

John Shewell: 'unifying'
John Shewell: 'unifying'

Current estimates put circulation falling by 10% to 40% every year. So unless the local media turn their fortunes around it may prove to be terminal for some. Derby’s Long Eaton Advertiser was among the first to go last year. So the rot has set in.  

For public sector comms we should be concerned. It’s not in our interests to see local newspapers go to the wall, despite what many PROs may think of their local newspapers. The truth is we need them as much as they need us. We need to have the debate as part of the wider local public services, which is also planned at this year’s CIPR Local Public Services conference in Brighton on 21-22 October.? 

There are two key reasons why we need to have a thriving local media. The first is to hold public services to account – to act as the independent arbiter between public services and the community. We should relish this opportunity to put our case forward.  ? 

However, public services must also hold the media to account when they fail to report in a fair and objective way. This ‘contract’ must be honoured by both parties.? 

The second is that a thriving local media is crucial to enhancing local democracy and strengthening a community’s sense of place.

How can we truly inform the public about services, policies and manifestos if we don’t have the local media to help shape the debate? ? 

So what’s the solution? Collaborate. Start talking with the local media about how to work better and focus on issues of common interest. For example, a campaign on the scourge of drugs and alcohol.? 

Embrace the social web. The biggest threat to traditional media is the internet, but it can also be an opportunity. The recent ABC figures show that while print circulation is declining online audience share is increasing. ? 

The message, and economics, is simple, shift the business and communications model online – specifically online applications that engage people. ? 

Public services should partner with news outlets to release information around specific issues or campaigns which will inform and engage the public. In this way public services and news outlets benefit, plus the public can access information which is relevant to them.? 

Finally, bring the media into the partnership circle. By unifying local public service communications it makes sense to include the local media as part of the family. ? 

In this way local public services can develop economies of communication and support their local media. ? 

But with most families there will always be disagreements, but strong and healthy families work through their issues for the sake of unity.  ? 

So let’s grow up, sit down and start the conversation – it’s in all our interests.? 

John Shewell is the head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council?

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