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.