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Julien Cozens

Digital blandscape: the demise of the local newspaper

Local newspapers have been a big part of my life. My father edited a couple in Dorset, I’ve worked on some in the UK and America and I still love to read the one of whichever town or city I may be visiting. So it’s sad to see so many reports of the demise of the local paper.

I know these stories aren’t new, but over the last few weeks they seem to have picked up pace. It’s been reported extensively that five of Johnson Press’ daily titles – Halifax Courier, Peterborough Evening News, Scarborough Evening News, Northampton Chronicle and Echo and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph – will become weeklies, although their online presence will be beefed up.

This isn’t just a UK phenomenon. I came across an American website called The Newspaper Death Watch which lists papers that have closed down in the States although The Leader News in El Campo, Texas which I briefly worked on, still seems to be going! Interestingly, the site claims that newspapers are the fastest shrinking U.S. industry. Online publishing, however, is one of the fastest growing industries.

Is it just a sign of the times on both sides of The Atlantic? Inevitable progress in a digital age? Perhaps it is, and I have to admit that I like to read The Times on my Kindle in the morning, but it still feels strange to me.

It is said that The Halifax Courier broke the news of the sinking of The Titanic, while The Northampton Chronicle and Echo serves a town with a population of around 200,000 people that boasts a top flight rugby team, a county cricket side and a professional football club. Obviously a place in journalism history and being a primary news provider in a large, busy town doesn’t make you immune from budgetary and circulation pressures and a younger population who consume information electronically as the norm.

Maybe online will be the saviour of local news but I think the demise of “paper” will have a significant impact. The newspapers, not just in their content and editorial stance, but in their design as well, reflect the nature of their town or region. When I go online to check regional stories I’m struck by how similar the websites seem. This is undoubtedly due to so many local papers being part of big groups and achieves the necessary convenience and economy of scale for the owner, but it does little to give them an identifiable personality.

Could there also be a knock-on effect for the quality of national journalism? Britain, despite the odd hiccup, is rightly regarded as being at the forefront of reporting. Will the loss of regional and local papers, a traditional training ground for national print and broadcast journalists, mean that the next generation are missing some of the skills and experiences that have always been considered vital?

Only time will tell – but for all media watchers, consumers and practitioners it’s going to be interesting. Now let me just check the latest on The Leader News’ website.

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Julien Cozens

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Julien is a Partner at the Madano Partnership.

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