Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Reaching the parts

THIS week we were presented with the results of research of the sort that has us crying out loud: “I could have told you that.” Nevertheless I cheered when I read it. The startling result was that sales of national newspapers increase when editions carry more regional content. Hallelujah! It may be blindingly obvious, but it is a lesson that the National Press would do well to take to heart. Their circulations have plummeted by roughly a half over the last ten years, with everything from round-the-clock TV news to lifestyles to the Internet blamed. But a factor far less discussed is that the accountants have taken over the board-rooms. They look at the cost of running teams of staff reporters in the regions and deem them surfeit to requirements. Offices have been closed and reporters, many of them experienced journalists who learned their trade on regional titles, made redundant. The result is that the papers have become more London-centric and driven by agendas remote and irrelevant to the vast majority of readers. Newspapers have opted for the easy political fare and celebrity news, easier to garner in the capital, and ignored real stories about real people living in the parts of the country where newspapers are still read. If you doubt this analysis, then look at the comparative resilience of the Scottish media. North of the border they still produce newspapers that reject the London bias, and their sales have held up far better than their English counterparts. From Liverpool to Norwich and Newcastle to Southampton there will be readers crying out for better representation of stories from their regions. So The Sun is to be commended for finally realising the error of their ways and confirming they will re-open their Manchester offices. It has promoted Northern correspondent Guy Patrick to Northern News Editor to lead a seven-strong team, which includes deputy Northern news editor Richard Moriaty and Northern features editor Jane Atkinson, alongside four reporters: Andrew Chamberlain, Rachel Dale, Emma Foster and Lauren Veevers. It was discredited Sun editor Rebekah Brooks who closed the paper’s old Manchester office in 2004 with the loss of ten jobs. But she was only one of many. Even a newspaper with as strong a Manchester connection as The Guardian acted similarly. Northen Editors and correspondents have been biting the dust consistently over the last few years. Now along comes the research and guess what? It finds the more regional content The Sun has, the more copies it sells. Well blow me down with a feather. Next it will be research proving ursine defecation usually happens in the trees and the Catholic tendency of Popes. But let all of us with an interest in the future of newspapers in general, and their regional content in particular, rejoice.

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