Tuesday 9 December 2008

Show us where the web money will come from before our regional papers are ruined

I was interviewed about the future of newspapers by Chris Vallance on the BBC's Radio 4 PM programme today and argued that local papers were part of the fabric of communities, like pubs and churches, and could not be replicated by a lot of fragmented websites.
It is my view that there is no obvious substitute for a well run newspaper news desk with some enthusiastic reporters who get out and about, make contacts and whose copy is handled by experienced subs.
My new media friends say there is no reason why websites cannot be as professional as traditional newspapers, it is just news content on a different platform. But there is a big but. Online ad revenues are too thin to pay for a decent sized editorial staff and web users are not prepared to pay a subscription.
Also on the PM programme was Robert Andrews, editor of paidContent:UK, who made a good point, which didn't make it on air, when we were discussing the difficulty of getting young people to pay for news. He said their attitude to news was the same as to music where sales have been hit by file sharing and illegal downloading. As well as getting their music free, the young are used to getting news for free on the internet. The latest email to subscribers to The Word magazine carries this quote. "The most common format of music on an iPod is "stolen" - Steve Ballmer, Microsoft.
Before newspapers are cut to the bone, closed or merged could someone please tell us where the money is going to come from to produce worthwhile editorial on the web which comes anywhere close to that provided, up to now, by regional newspapers.

Long edits of the interviews for the PM programme can be heard here and include Johnston Press chief Tim Bowdler stating that the closure of a local paper would leave "a gaping hole in the social fabric of the U.K."


Tim Holmes said...

Er, Jon, where is the money to come from full stop? And doesn't this point up, yet again, the potential value of the bbclocal initiative?

Jon Slattery said...

Thanks for the comment Tim. I don't believe the money has gone from the local press for good (although the days of 30 percent profit margins are probably over),
but I am worried that it will be ruined by the time the economy recovers. I think bbclocal has potential value, not least for journalists' jobs, but its planned expansion could not have been promoted at a worse time when the regional press is facing such extreme financial pressures.