Sunday, January 29, 2006

Time to reward energetic editors

Searching for a cure for regional newspaper ills
Published: Press Gazette, Thursday, January 26, 2006
Are cutbacks and job losses the only way to save the regional newspaper industry? Sarah Lagan asks some players in this sector if there are some alternative remedies

Page lead headline in my local evening paper last week:
‘Operations delay to pay back debt’
The story reveals that 2,000 patients won’t be getting the hospital operation they’ve been waiting for.
Number of people quoted in the story:
Two – the Primary Care Trust chairman and the director of planning
Pictures with story:
Action picture of chief executive plus picture of Trust members around table
Number of patients and hospital staff (aka readers) quoted in story:
Number of pictures patients and hospital staff (aka readers) with story:
Opportunities on page for readers to contribute:

Here, in all its living glory, is the problem with regional newspapers. Old fashioned, one dimensional, institutional reporting with a cavalier disregard for readers who don’t seem to matter. No wonder they’re not buying papers any more.
The regional press needs to wake up quickly and reinvent itself before the only readers left are those officials, PR people and pressure groups who make up the news conspiracy along with bored reporters and unimaginative editors.
It’s time to reward editors who work hard to enthuse their staff to engage with readers. Back them when they want to introduce innovative programmes of community journalism that get the journalists out of the office and into the field. In fact, just get rid of the office.
I have spoken to most of the major regional groups about this over the past few years and precious few editors and especially managements have the stomach for the fight.
Witness the communal wailing and gnashing over ‘citizen journalism’ citing legal and copyright issues plus the perennial protection of “the jobs of professionals in the industry”.
If this predictable po-faced attitude is supposed to put the frighteners on people who want be part of the paper rather than be lectured at then there’s bad news from markets around the world.
The South Korean site Ohmynews – – has nearly 40,000 citizen reporters on its books who submit content on just about everything with little or no interference from the so-called professional journalists back in the office. Along with this huge workforce of eyes and ears come potential customers too. Last year it turned in a profit of $400,000, two thirds of it from advertising.
And like the threat of the internet on classified advertising the whole issue of citizen journalism could soon start to exercise the major media players. The parallels are clear. Just as Trinity Mirror and DMGT have spent millions buying up internet advertising sites soon they may look towards consolidating content that appears on the web.
So, to quote David Brent, let’s get ‘customer focused’ and put the reader first. That needs a change in attitude at the top which leads to a revolution in what regional journalists do and how they do it.


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