Future for local and regional media - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Supplementary written evidence submitted by Christopher Thomson

  Looking through the transcript and answers to the questions, I am aware that perhaps I did not perhaps fully answer Q7 which was put by Mr. Sanders and which was "You have lumped in local and regional again and you keep saying "local and regiona". I want to get a picture of whether it is worse for the local newspaper than it is for the regional newspaper, or is there no difference at all?" I am sorry for the length of this note.

  There seems to be generally a little confusion about the difference between local and regional newspapers. But at its simplest I regard "local" newspapers really as the local weekly newspapers and the "regional" newspapers are generally the larger regional dailies (even though "regionals" are also of course "local", and often have local, county or even sometimes city editions. A regional newspaper will often have five or six editions covering perhaps three or four counties and several cities and within those there will also be sub editions which cover half a traditional county and even some towns so they are also one could say local not just regional ).

  The local weeklies and the regional dailies overlap to an extent in an area. And indeed often the local weekly will use the regional in its area as its main source of news. So the regional daily in a sense is working for the small local daily.The daily "regional" in an area, traditionally will have had much greater resource to invest in stories since it is normally a bigger paper and daily. The local weekly will follow up that story and, where a particular story may be on the inside page of a regional daily, the local weekly may have the same story on its front page.

  Equally the Regional dailies will in turn overlap with the Nationals ( which Nationals in turn now have regional editions for example the Times in Scotland and the Daily Telegraph and all the main nationals have regionalised editions covering different parts of a region and indeed different advertising in different part of a region as well as different editorial. Most Nationals now for example print in Scotland and in the English regions which enables them to cover regional and local sport and other editorial matters in different parts even of those large regions... again those "regions" loosely mentioned are not usually what i would call a region for regional newspapers... Scotland is more than a region and the north of England more than a region but even in those loosely very large defined areas the National newspapers increasingly have a number of editions equivalent to the areas individual regional newspapers cover in those area ). So there is much more of a blur compared to 20 years ago, 10 years ago or even five years ago as to what is a Local, Regional or National Newspaper. That is one point I would like to make. Basically "local" newspapers are by and large the weeklies. But the regional dailies are also local and the nationals are heading to be as local often almost as the regional dailies or any two of them.

  So how to distinguish them? Well let's look at editorial content. That is perhaps the easiest way.

  The big regional daily newspapers will cover National,International and Local stories with very much an emphasis on the local and regional point of view so for example as regards our boys in Afghanistan we will be likely to give greater coverage to matters that affect a regiment based in our region or locality town or area.

  The national newspapers will generally cover those stories but from an almost exclusively national point of view and will usually only cover them if they have a national impact. They do not look at them as we do from a local or regional point of view.

  The local weeklies will usually only cover such a story if it is very local indeed and really affects people locally or in a community that say has been hard hit.

  But to answer Mr. Sanders question from a financial point of view "is it worse for the local or regional", I would say it is equally bad although possibly it could be said to be worse for the regional newspapers since they have necessarily a much higher standing cost.

  The key financial matter is that the decline in advertising has affected regional dailies and local weeklies both very badly, disastrously in fact.

  The only real difference is that local weeklies recently had 80% of their total revenues from advertising and only say 20% from cover price and so that any big drop in advertising revenue hits them very hard and from a percentage point of view. If they lose 50% of their advertising that equates to 40% (50% of 80%) of their total revenues!

  On the other hand the regional dailies tended to have about 60% (some even had almost 70%) of their revenues from Advertising, so that a 50% reduction would hit their total revenues by perhaps 30% or 35%. Still massive! Of course the regionals had and have a much larger amount of money at stake as an individual title. So a 30%-35% for a regional title is a great deal of money compared to 50% for a small individual local paper. But looked at as an industry, both are suffering very badly indeed.

  This difference in percentages for the regional as opposed to the weekly is also in part because the regional daily publishes every weekday and on some days there is a lot of advertising and other days not and so the percentage of cover price as a total is higher and percentage of advertising lower overall, compared to the 80% on weeklies.

  But that percentage difference also hides the fact that the regional dailies have very high standing costs in terms of investment in Journalism ( as mentioned the regionals do a lot of work finding and covering the stories and news which can end up on the front page of a competing local paper for free and also may end up in the nationals newspapers or on the BBC or ITN in some cases ) and the regionals also have to keep up and man every week day very large Press halls which generally the small local weeklies do not have.

  The main revenue streams for regional newspapers have traditionally been Recruitment, Property and Motors. Motor dealerships have merged over the years so there are fewer and much more powerful ones and there is trader media for them to advertise in. Property advertising has become dominated by estate agents and lawyers who have property shops and publish free property magazines and free property newspapers. And the Internet has of course come to dominate large swathes of advertising.

  The significant reductions in Motors revenue and the Property revenue could perhaps have been coped with but for the now huge reduction and withdrawal particularly by Government of recruitment advertising no longer placed any where near as significantly with the regional and local press.

  The regional dailies have been particularly badly hit by the loss of recruitment revenue which was a very high proportion of their total revenue indeed possibly as high as 20% of total revenue! That income from recruitment advertising in regional newspapers was nowhere near as high in the local weekly newspapers. And Central Government has in particular encouraged all institutions which they control including the NHS to remove their advertising spend from or curtail it in the regional daily press in particular.The same has also applied to a significant extent to Local Government and District Councils who control very large advertising budgets.

  That change in itself has hit the regional daily press in particular very badly and to a much lesser extent the local weekly press who have also been badly hit by a shortfall in overall advertising.

  Finally if advertising disappears from our newspapers, copy sales are affected.This is certainly true for the regional daily newspapers. We have seen our Friday editions decline in sale. Friday was a very big recruitment advertising day and when we had more recruitment advertising we sold more newspapers on that day. The same is true for other days of the week.We did better on copy sales on Thursdays which tended to be Property advertising days.Tuesday also was more of a property day at one time. Saturday tended to be a Motors advertising day.

   In conclusion times are bad for both the regional dailies and local weekly newspapers.So to that extent there is no difference. There are within that however differences which I thought might be useful to highlight as I have tried to indicate above. The regional daily press is very important indeed vital for its news gathering and its investment in journalism and is distinguished by that. But of course many young journalists also begin life on a local weekly newspaper so they are both to my mind very important and vital for democracy in the UK.

  The wonderful people who work in this part of the press really care for their local and regional communities and celebrate their successes and sorrows and are part of the community and reflect that which holds us together. In exactly the same way that that is why constituencies are so vital for the political process. The regional and local press together and the political process are in many ways part of the same coin and have much more in common much more so than the national press in many ways although as I have tried to show the national press are becoming themselves more local and regional.

July 2009

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