MEDIA: Regional Newspapers - Finding new life outside of metropolis. Regional media in the UK is going through a tough time at the moment and the regional press are rethinking strategies to reverse declining sales

Last week’s ABCs saw regional press circulation figures decline again for the second six months of 1999.

Last week’s ABCs saw regional press circulation figures decline

again for the second six months of 1999.



The sector as a whole fell 1.8 per cent between July and September, the

worst second half performance since 1995. Regional Sundays were down

year-on-year by 6.6 per cent, regional daily morning papers by 3.7 per

cent and evening papers were down by 2.4 per cent. Only the weekly

newspaper sector bucked the trend with a slight rise of 0.1 per cent

year- on-year.



The causes for the slump are varied. Some editors argue that weeklies

are successful because they can concentrate on the minutiae of village

life while the big regional dailies are having their stories stolen by

radio and television. Some claim that the demands on people’s time mean

an evening paper is a time luxury if not an economic one.



It’s also no coincidence that this week saw Associated hold a huge

birthday party to mark the highly successful first birthday of its

morning free sheet Metro. Rolling out across the country as a

self-styled ’free urban national’, it is giving already worried regional

daily editors further sleepless nights. Metro has launched in

Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow and Manchester, with a further seven

editions to come. In London, Associated shifts 350,000 copies of Metro

daily and the Evening Standard has lost circulation - admittedly an

impressively small drop of 8,000 copies.



What’s also unclear is the best way out of this slump. Some papers, such

as the Manchester Evening News, see moving into areas like local

television as the key - using their reporters’ exclusive local access to

secure the best local coverage.



Neil Fowler of the Western Mail agrees: ’We need to look at our

strengths and work out how to target the people who want the wealth of

information that we have access to. That means looking at radio, print,

on-line and even television.’



Alison Hastings of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle has chosen to add

value to the paper in the form of extra supplements and additional

coverage, including personal finance.



In Liverpool, Live TV lives on as part of local newspaper group

Trinity’s media interests there. Others look to the internet with 85 per

cent of regional newspapers on-line. Still others argue that it’s all

about the time honoured tradition of regional news - avoid going to war

with the nationals and concentrate on getting local people into the

local paper.





THE WESTERN MAIL



Neil Fowler



Position: Editor



ABC: 57,131



’The performance of our group gives a pretty clear picture of the

market. The weeklies have done very well, Wales on Sunday is up, our

Saturday editions have increased, the morning paper has held out, but

the evening has had a tough time. In some ways, this is a reflection of

the way people are living now. They work harder, have less time at home

and have more to do when they are there.



’The communications and media bill out later this year is of huge

importance to us. We need ownership rules to be liberalised. It’s

ridiculous that at the same time that AOL is taking over Time Warner and

EMI, Trinity is arguing with the DTI over whether owning four local

newspapers in the Welsh valleys constitutes a monopoly.’





NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE



Alison Hastings



Position: Editor



ABC: 107,511



’It’s been a very tough year for us. The Swedish group the Morning News

launch a daily free paper in Newcastle and our owners have licensed the

Metro title from Associated and launched that here. Now, Metro is owned

by us, but we still have to compete with 100,000 free newspapers a day

that weren’t there a year ago.



’It’s the same all over the country. New radio stations are coming on

air, there’s new listings titles, new magazines, competition is getting

hotter and hotter and it’s the regional evening paper that is everyone’s

target.



’Our sister paper in Liverpool has launched a TV station and that’s the

way of the future. Get the best local content and then squirt it where

it can be best used.’





LANCASHIRE EVENING POST



Roger Borrell



Position: Editor



ABC: 47,284



’The big success for our group is the Wigan Evening Post which has been

bucking the trend of falling ABCs. It’s a real micro-edition with

tabloid values. It’s a red top and it’s got a great sense of humour but

it has hard news values.



’Until a few years ago, it was essentially an edition of the Lancashire

Evening Post with a few pages of Wigan news and the town, which has a

fierce sense of civic pride, thought it was being short changed. Now

they’re getting an undiluted diet of Wigan news.Until papers invest in

more journalists, I think there’s a risk that the downward trend will

continue. Of course, it’s costly, but in Wigan we’re starting to get

rewarded with ad revenue on the back of the papers’ increasingly strong

reputation.’





KENT MESSENGER



Simon Irwin



Position: Editor



ABC: 47,949



’Weeklies have certain advantages over the regional evening papers.

We’re weekly, we come out on a Friday and that gives people time to read

us over the entire week. We’re also incredibly local. My readers can

live in a village with a population of 500 people and the only way

they’re going to get news about their area is from us.



’We have five pages of village news, something that was sneered at five

years ago when weeklies were in the doldrums, but something that’s been

reappraised now. We do things like 16-page nativity play supplements and

we’re running a series of pictures of local groups in the year 2000 -

all under the policy that it’s pictures that sell papers. That’s why our

circulation’s just gone up 5.7 per cent.’



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