Media: A little local knowledge is proving to be a good thing

For the past two years I’ve been a judge in the UKPG Regional Press Awards, taking particular responsibility for the paid for and free weekly newspaper section. This means reading through stacks of local newspapers from across Britain that I would not normally see.

For the past two years I’ve been a judge in the UKPG Regional Press

Awards, taking particular responsibility for the paid for and free

weekly newspaper section. This means reading through stacks of local

newspapers from across Britain that I would not normally see.



The exercise has led me to completely revise my opinion of this

apparently dowdy, depressed sector, which receives so little attention

in the national media. The commonly held view is that the regional press

has been in decline since the mid-1950s, with the large city evening

titles dropping in circulation by about one per cent a year in the

1955-1995 period, as people commute by car.



Further, local weekly newspapers are thought to have largely had the

stuffing knocked out of them by the freesheets, which stole their

advertising and community ’noticeboard’ role from the mid-1970s

onwards.



But these are broad brush inaccuracies: regional and local newspapers

are far from dying and they are in any case players in a very diverse

industry. I happen to live in an area where the free paper is hopeless

and the paid-for obsessed with gruesome crime. But there are tremendous

paid for, and (yes) free weeklies such as this year’s UKPG winners, the

Bucks Free Press and the Borehamwood Times, which have enviable levels

of both advertising and well-written content. What’s more, I know that

they are far from unique.



There are weak circulation (under 50,000 daily sales) evening

papers.



But there are also strong papers among the 94 dailies, such as the

Reading Evening Post, Express and Echo Exeter and the redesigned Eastern

Daily Press. More than half the UK’s weekly and morning titles increased

circulation by the end of 1996 as their focused managements (Trinity,

Johnston Press, Northcliffe, United) invested in content. Many (outside

of big daily mornings) have gone tabloid to attract mainstream readers.

And they have become family/consumer-oriented by appealing to women. The

weekly press is least gender conscious with some 30 women editors.



The Newspaper Society’s research shows consumers find local newspapers

most helpful in deciding where to shop. Some 32 million people look at

classified adverts in the regional/local press once a week. They beat

TV, national papers and radio in having the ’most helpful advertising’ -

it is hard to house hunt without using a local paper. Further, seven in

ten employers, says the Industrial Society, use them to advertise

vacancies.



The Advertising Association predicts regional press advertising is

poised to grow by 8.1 per cent, this year, slightly above TV, but

slightly below the all-media average of 8.5 per cent. It is a mature,

but perky sector.



Another example of grey power.



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