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Monday, October 03, 2005

Can localizing news save newspapers?

Many newspapers are currently struggling as they are facing declines in readership and also advertising. One way to win back readers could be to focus on local news - something that lies at the heart of newspapers', at least regional and local newspapers', competence. The idea is currently often cited and newspapers start to experiment with it. The Birmingham Mail just started its new relaunched and localized edition. Gannett's editors agreed on the importance of local news in their papers at their meeting last week and online strategist Steve Yelvington praised the advantages of hyperlocal community sites at the Ifra Newsroom summit last week.

Steve Dyson says that "the way to fight the threat from national newspapers and the internet is to focus on what the regional press does best - focus on local news", reports The Guardian. Dyson, the new editor of the Birmingham Mail, an "oil tanker heading nowhere" because it is currently the worst performing metropolitan paper in Britain, plans to turn his paper into the best performing one by focusing on local news.

Starting today, the paper changed its name from Birmingham Evening Mail to its former name Birmingham Mail, which was last used in 1967. The redesigned paper focuses more on local news and lifestyle. Four new local editions were added. So the paper now publishes seven local editions instead of the previous three timed editions. But because the different editions will appear at different times in the city, the paper will be able to publish timed editions as well. Dyson said in The Guardian: "We're going back to the grassroots with a more detailed focus on local areas. People can get breaking news in most places - that's the real challenge for evening papers. We've got to remind them how essential we can be by concentrating on what we're good at - reflecting people's local lives." Local news, that was traditionally only covered on the inside pages, will begin to appear on the front page as well. Dyson also said that it was not easy to persuade publisher Trinity Mirror to invest in a "failing" paper.

Although regional papers of Trinity Mirror, like the Western Mail, the Newcastle Evening Chronicle and the Liverpool Daily Post, could increase sales recently, the overall trend for regional papers in the UK is downward. According to ABC figures, paid-for regional papers lost 8% between 1999 and 2004. Evening papers are performing especially bad.

"Newspapering ain't what it used to be, although in some ways it is, can and should be everything it used to be", was the message of the Gannett Editors Meeting last week, reports Tuscon Citizen (the paper is also owned by Gannett). David Daugherty, Gannett Vice President of Research said,"Local coverage is important. Local/local coverage is more important. Local/local/local coverage is even more important. Covering 'me' and 'my agenda' is most important."

And local newspapers should become "hyperlocal community sites" if they are willing to succeed in the digital age, was the advise of online strategist Steve Yelvington at the Ifra Newsroom summit in London last week. According to Journalism.co.uk, Yelvington "told delegates that the long decline in newspaper readership has been caused not just by the internet, but by a complex accumulation of social and technological influences including radio, TV, cable and satellite alternatives. In response, news sites need to focus the personal, social and local interest at the heart of their local communities. A successful web publication needs to reinforce rather than compete with its print partner, so publishers must construct a new vision for their online proposition."

Yelvington cited the example of US local newspaper BlufftonToday . Its site BlufftonToday publishes news alongside photo galleries, an events calendar and different blogs, all open to contributions from residents. Fittingly, the paper's slogan is "It's what people are talking about!" Four months after the launch of BlufftonToday , the site had 1000 blog posts, 5600 comments and 4000 photos uploaded. Most notably, also print readership has risen. While there are still problems, like educating staff for the site or monetizing the different site elements, the site is certainly a good example to take advantage of the internet. Yelvington's advice is: "Have clear goals for your site and tell users about those goals, invite them to participate and ask for their help and don't be afraid to lead the conversation or intervene when necessary."

Sources: The Guardian, see also BrandRepublic, Journalism.co.uk, Tuscon Citizen

Posted by Anna-Maria Mende on October 3, 2005 at 03:50 PM in h. Young readers / New readers, i. Future of print | Permalink

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