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
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
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
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.