Over the weekend I was desperately sad to read (via twitter) that my hometown paper, The Chronicle and Echo, is set to switch from a daily to a weekly title.
BREAKING NEWS: We can confirm that we are ceasing daily circulation next month, switching to a weekly printed edition bit.ly/HC1w0S
— Northampton Chron (@ChronandEcho) April 16, 2012
It’s not the only paper to make the announcement this last week either, with job losses and protests over the last few months at titles as significant as Scarborough Evening News and the Halifax Courier.
Regional news is vitally important. Surveys consistently demonstrate that readers trust local media more than any other media, and these titles are vital in keeping communities informed and united. There’s an emotional investment on behalf of the community too. A regional title is like a landmark and while I haven’t read the paper for years, living over 100 miles away, the masthead and the paper’s unmissable presence in the town centre are strong emotional hooks linking me with my childhood and friends and family still living there.
So what’s the answer? Regional titles are important but clearly not enough people are buying copies of them, but why would they when the Chronicle and Echo gives away its content for free?
Paying for content
For me this problem ties in closely with a previous post I wrote last week that argued in favour of trading data for online services; be prepared to pay, in some way, to get content. The new focus for my hometown paper seems to be a switch to digital output with an iPad app but where does this leave the older demographic that have faithfully bought the paper for decades?
A paywall perhaps that generates enough funding to maintain the daily paper? A paywall means the paper loses traffic and therefore revenue from online ads and citizen journalism is enjoying a renaissance.
Increase the cover price? No doubt the publisher, Johnston Press, has considered this and couldn’t justify it.
Regional press is continuing to go through a tough time and with job losses continuing unabated my biggest fear is for the community; syndicated news sites and the nationals don’t care about one of the country’s ugliest buildings getting a renovation but I guarantee every single Northampton resident (cobblers) cares passionately about the future of Greyfriars bus station. But with the status quo as it it is, how much longer will the community be able to find out about it?