Local newspapers…when was the last time you read yours? Working in PR, I always make time to read them but when I ask my friends, it’s more a case that if they’ve got time, they flick through it to read about the latest round of library closures, or to gasp at what a three-bed house is now going for.
But it’s rarely for topical news or insightful opinion – and the freebies tend to go straight from the letter box into the recycling.
Asking round the office, my colleagues’ reading habits are largely the same, with the general consensus being there’s little worth reading in there that you’ve not already picked up on a more engaging site – one of the favourites being Altrincham. Today, should you be interested.
So surely this week’s announcement (read more here) that the Trinity Mirror Group are launching their Connected Newsroom should be welcomed. Producing content that audiences want to read, when, and how, they want to read it, with the ambition of growing a local and engaged audience? Bring it on!
So what exactly can we look forward to? The aim is that the ‘Connected Newsroom’ will build on the introduction of the ‘Newsroom 3.1′ strategy first introduced at Trinity’s North East titles in April 2014 and subsequently rolled out across the group last year. According to Trinity Mirror, this next stage will see a new editorial structure being introduced, with increased use of audience data, along with the introduction of individual and team audience goals, to ensure that editorial resources are focused on the most popular regional content. This tailored content will then be edited and packaged into the region’s newspapers where it will, hopefully, be more likely to be read.
However the announcement has been met with criticism, not least by the National Union of Journalists (read more here). Along with concerns about job losses – Trinity has announced that there will be ‘a handful’ of redundancies – the main concern seems to be that setting individual click targets for journalists could encourage reporters to sensationalise stories, trivialise the news and give up on more challenging, public interest journalism that takes time to research and deliver.
While I admit to having my concerns about ‘proper’ local news being elbowed aside to focus instead on ‘funny’ video clips of some hapless driver going the wrong way up a one-way-street, there’s no denying that we now live in a digitally-driven era of smartphones, tablets and social media. Surely this means that modern journalism must adapt its methods accordingly?
Trinity Mirror’s Editorial Director for Regionals, Neil Benson, certainly thinks so: “With digital audiences outstripping our print audiences…we need to take a digitally-led approach in our newsrooms – to move with the market.”
And I agree. The danger is that local journalism is currently seen as outdated by many, with uninspiring coverage. Any plans to make it more relevant to those people’s lives and interests it’s supposed to reflect, should therefore be welcomed. What’s more, at a time when the Northern Powerhouse is too often seen as already running out-of-steam by our friends in the South, the fact that the changes will start to be introduced from the end of September across Trinity Mirror’s core regional businesses in Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales, Manchester and Huddersfield, Wales and the North East, is fantastic news for the region.
So let’s start seeing the cup as half-full. There’s lots to be positive for: a real change to the way regional journalism is run, the opportunity to reinvigorate local people’s relationship with their local newspapers and to communities, and a chance to reinforce the Northern Powerhouse.
And let’s face it, what’s the alternative for local newspapers? Because if changes aren’t made, and greater commercial support isn’t secured to ensure their success, in my opinion they’re only headed for one place … and that’s the recycling bin.
Director of Firework PR
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