Monday 03 April, 2017

It’s never easy to leave a faithful friend, especially one who has been part of your life for many years. But after weeks of procrastination, I recently decided it was time to act. Stop getting our newspaper. 

For over 20 years I have witnessed the slow and painful decline of our local weekly newspaper. Editors came and went; noticeably they no longer lived in the area.

Journalists told me they were frequently left on their own to fill the paper as best they could with no time to meet anyone in the community. They relied on e-mails and press releases.

Almost every relevant local story already appeared elsewhere forcing the weeklies to publish growing amounts of syndicated content.

Even the letters page, traditionally a source of some local insight, had largely given way to generic text written hundreds of miles away.  Much of the correspondence made little attempt to incorporate any local references at all.

Our local weekly paper had become a dull mix of poor journalism and lazy PR.

The news that Johnston Press has recorded a £300m pre-tax loss for 2016 will come as no surprise to anyone in the communications sector.

Amidst the claims and counter claims about the strength of the UK economy, it difficult to judge how far they are genuine victims of a post-Brexit downturn in advertising spend.

Less controversial is what the write down in the value of their newspaper titles says about the decline in our regional press.

There are of course honourable exceptions to the rule, particularly in Scotland’s more remote communities, but few can dispute the direction of travel.

It can’t be long before many of Scotland’s weekly newspapers disappear. Some brands will remain as digital only publications but it’s very difficult to imagine them all making the cut.

Johnston Press understands this better than anyone. They have had some notable success with digital publications but converting digital readers into sustainable revenue is never  easy.

We all know what’s going on but I do wonder if everyone within the PR community is entirely honest with their clients when analysing the impact of local newspaper coverage.

It’s always an easy win to issue press releases to weekly papers without asking too many questions about levels of circulation, readership and, above all, genuine impact.

Facebook is the dominant platform for sharing community news and information in my local area with some posts reaching thousands.

It underlines why community engagement must be rooted in a cohesive digital strategy.

Our newsagent’s phlegmatic reaction to our momentous decision proved somewhat disarming.

Apparently we were the third family that morning who had done the same thing…