We should all be concerned about decline of regional newspapers

The Liverpool Post

This week it was announced that a Liverpool institution, The Post, would be ceasing publication. The newspaper, which switched from a daily to a weekly in 2012, has been running for more than 158 years, and has been particularly good at business coverage, in depth reporting of some of the bigger issues that have affected the Liverpool city region and local sport, namely Everton and Liverpool.

In recent times, as with all regional papers, its quality has declined along with its circulation figures, but nonetheless it is a significant news platform that will be missed.

Its closure, though sad, was not entirely unexpected, and the city will still be served with a regional newspaper via the Echo, though this is more tabloid in its approach to reporting.

However, the Echo too has seen a significant drop in its circulation figures in recent years, and it seems that even giants like Trinity Mirror, who own a healthy chunk of the regional newspaper market, are struggling to find a way of overcoming the challenge of the World Wide Web.

Digital editions have been launched and scrapped, news teams have been cut back and dumbed down, increased amount of content is ‘scraped’ from other rival news agencies. The days of investigative reporting, considered and constructive analysis and local exclusives are, at best, hanging by a thread.

Readers of the Lancashire Evening Post, the Yorkshire Post and the MEN will be conscious of the decline in the quality of what they are reading in general news terms. As far as business news is concerned, it is pretty woeful.

Those journalists assigned to ‘do’ business often have several other roles within the paper and are increasingly reliant of PR agencies to fill their daily e bulletins or their weekly business supplements. Otherwise, it is those with the big advertising budgets that tend to enjoy lots of column inches.

Does this matter? I think it does. For a lobbying organisation like Downtown, we were highly reliant on the Post to shake things up in Liverpool when we launched nine years ago. The shambles of the management in the run up to Capital of Culture year, poor planning policy and too many QUANGOS were all issues that we were able to have debated and discussed through the pages of our local newspaper.

We have grown enough to be able to use other tools to raise such issues now, but are they as effective as print media to hit the wider community?

And in terms of the broader agenda, who will be holding to account our big Corporates regionally; speaking up for our towns and cities; highlighting the good and the bad; scrutinising what our local politicians and officials are up to? Is this an agenda that will interest the London centric press?

I think regional papers are caught in a vicious circle. To maintain economic viability in the short term, they cut overheads. In doing so they make their proposition less unique and less attractive. This leads to a fall in circulation. This leads to the next round of cost cutting. And so it goes on.

I believe there is a market for quality regional publications that have an agenda for good solid reporting, sticking up for their local area and providing good business coverage. There are few if any of the existing stable of regional newspapers that do this nowadays, and as a result I expect that the Post will not be the last one to be announcing closure.