Are our towns and cities too big for a local paper?
Matthew Engel, who used to work for his hometown paper the Northampton Chronicle & Echo which is being turned into a weekly by Johnston Press, argues on FT.com that the local press thrives in small communities rather than large towns and cities.
He predicts that cities as big as Birmingham and Manchester will lose their daily local paper.
Engel writes: "Local newspapers thrive best where the roots are deepest. Rural weeklies (rural dailies in the US) still hold their own. And conventional local journalism doesn’t work on the web because readers have their own agenda – they want to hear news of what and whom they know: “Hey, the post office is closing! . . . Oh, old Mr so-and-so has died! . . . Aah, that kid from No 39 scored the winner!” You have to flick the printed pages to find your own private headlines.
"Northampton is now a town of blow-ins and drop-bys, there because it’s easy to get out of, living in anonymous estates, barely knowing their neighbours. They have no need of a local paper or even an iPad app. In the event of flood, pestilence or plague, the BBC is far more useful. The Chron now sells less than 20,000.
"The Chronicle & Echo has died, not because the town is too small but because it is too big. Northampton is no longer a coherent community. Though it is by far the largest town in Britain to have lost its daily paper, others will follow, including perhaps – before long – cities as large as Birmingham and Manchester. And post-print websites will fail even there unless they pay for far better journalism than has been the provincial norm."
I am a freelance journalist based in the UK and was deputy editor of Press Gazette, the journalists' magazine, from 1993 until 2006. I want to give an independent view on media matters.
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