“If you had a paper for every street, it would sell” – Really?

“If you had a paper for every street, it would sell.”

So says a grand old duke of independent regional newspaper publishing in the UK, Sir Ray Tindle, in this interview on www.journalism.co.uk.

Seeing as Sir Ray is proprietor of Tindle Newspapers, which publishes around 200 regional papers, it’s a safe bet he’s going to come out with a statement like that regarding the current state of offline journalism. As a PR piece, it’s a gorgeous interview.

It’s got the lot – nostalgia, positive community messaging, a nod to the editorial staff, and even a Churchill quote. Bravo.

But as a realistic assessment of the current plight of British regional newspapers, it’s way off the mark. Different planet, in fact.

I started my journalistic career on a regional newspaper in South Wales – covering two murders in the first week – as well as Council meetings, court reporting, business coverage, charity pieces, profiles…just about anything and everything. Loved it.

Tough slog – up to 11 hours on some days – with atrocious pay and a line of trainee journalists behind me, ready to jump into the job at any opportunity. That’s the way the industry works, on a regional level. Dog eat dog, with every move being monitored.

Too many journalism students coming out of colleges with NCTJ qualifications, fighting for poorly-paid editorial jobs, working like slaves for 18 months, then progressing up the ladder to a slightly bigger newspaper, working more hours for slightly more money, and wishing they’d studied Law instead.

Well, of course, I’m painting a sceptical picture – but it’s a moderately accurate one. I really enjoyed my ‘cutting teeth’ time.

But why do so many NCTJ-qualified journalists now go straight into corporate comms, charity press release offices, PR agencies and the like? Because they can’t find work on regional newspaper newsdesks.

Traditional publishers like Tindle Newspapers are piling more and more work onto the editorial staff, knowing full well they’ll take it, because there are no other journalistic positions available in the local area. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the current state of our regional Press.

So for Sir Ray to state in the interview above “Tindle Newspapers hasn’t made one journalist redundant since the recession began” is brilliant PR fodder, but ex-regional newsroom Hacks like myself know the real truth behind this comment.

To be blunt, being made redundant from Northcliffe Newspaper Group – another bastion of regional publishing in the UK which continues to utilise management methods we’d rather of seen the back of circa 1953 – was the best thing to happen to my editorial career.

From that point on, for me, came senior business magazine editorial gigs, corporate comms projects with firms such as Apple and Mitel Networks, and the immense variety of getting immersed in online copywriting, digital journalism, blogging for clients as well as the incredible world of social media from 2005 onwards.

I’d never work in a regional newspaper newsroom again. The future is online. Sir Ray knows this, but he’s calling your bluff.

As for the diminishing state of British regional newspapers? If you’re coming out of an NCTJ course anytime soon, here’s my advice to you, for what it’s worth.

If the work isn’t available, create the work.

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8 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Chris Street, Chippenham People. Chippenham People said: RT @BristolEditor: "If you had a paper for every street, it would sell" – Really? http://ow.ly/3UlYm […]

  2. Kat Trimble says:

    Bless him, clinging on with his fingernails to an era which is long gone.

    If any young journalist said to me, ‘I’ll start with a local paper and then move on I’d say the same thing. Go down another route if you can. Please.

    Would be journos, please read this. He knows what he’s talking about.

  3. Hi Kat

    Many thanks and lovely to see you here!

    Sad, sorry state of British regional newspapers, really, as you also pointed out – not enough investment, not in the right places, and not in time.

    The biggest losers are young hungry journalists, readerships moving online to find more relevant content, and (of course) businesses who no longer get any ROI from newspaper advertising – if they ever did in the first place.

    Happy days.

    Well, happy if you’re working online, of course 🙂

  4. Hilary says:

    Hi, interesting reading your comments – great PR, perhaps, but I was hoping those of us in the industry would read between the lines. To my mind there is a hyperlocal business model for print for many years to come. I’m not alone, either – Warren Buffett wouldn’t be investing in ‘community papers’ if he didn’t think there was money (albeit modest) there. The veiled point I was trying to make was that the plcs – eager to maximise their online return on investment – had lost sight of their product. Local businesses realise their customers communicate in different ways – in print, online and via social media. They’d be stupid if they didn’t want to maximise their reach locally -trouble is the plcs aren’t addressing their needs because they’ve not invested in the art of storytelling. Tindle might seem out of touch with the modern world but he realised local news was best delivered by those at the heart of the community. We recently helped to relaunch a local paper left for dead bt Guardian newspaper and it’s going from strength to strength because it has gone back to the basics – storytelling. Local news is about local people and print won’t die out for this market until everyone communicates online.

  5. Hi Hilary

    Thanks for your comments – much appreciated.

    I agree with you, in that local newspapers are in some senses the best places in journalism to find great examples of true storytelling.

    The issue remains that the moneymen and number-crunchers value cash via circuation sales, not stories.

    Financing and funding storytelling regionally remains a thorny subject – particularly with the rise of internet-based news for free, hyperlocal news blogs and the like. I still feel the time is up for regionals.

  6. Hilary says:

    Hi Bristol Editor, the time might be up for regionals but not for hyperlocal news – this market isn’t solely online and won’t be for some time. Warren Buffett – a serious money cruncher – need I say more. H

  7. Hi again Hilary,

    Good luck!

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