Franklin, Bob ed. (2006) Local Journalism and Local Media: Making the Local News. Routledge.
[[This book was published 16 years ago so the references to local news action are a bit dated. The consolidation of the local press has increased since then. This week, August 2022, Reach journalists in Bristol are going on strike for better pay.]]
Chapter 1 — Attacking the Devil, Bob Franklin
In 2005, the Johnston Group bought the Scotsman publications, Trinity Mirror announced 300 job cuts, and Northcliffe tried to sell 110 local papers.
It all seemed gloom and doom but, in truth, local newspapers were, and are, very successful business enterprises (Mintel, 2005).
Big profits and high margins attract buyers and increase the concentration of ownership (Milmo 2005a, 2005b).
Even though sales are down, ads are up, and costs keep getting cut.
Journalism keeps seeing a reduction of the number of journalists and low wages, which eventually translates to low quality news (Barter 2005; Franklin & Murphy 1997).
The number of local papers has decreased over a 20 year time period by between 1995 and 2005 it stayed stable.
Circulation however has been falling.
Local newspapers mean business! p.7
The business strategy for local newspaper owners is to maximise revenue and minimise production costs. One way they can do this is because “local newspapers effectively enjoy a monopoly in local classified advertising.” This makes up more than two-thirds of overall revenues (Mintel 2005).
In 2004, “advertising revenues in the regional press reached £3,132 million. This accounted for a 20% share of total media advertising revenues.
The only higher percentage went to TV at 26%. Newspapers get 13%, magazines 12%, radio 4%, cinema 1% and the internet 4%.
Sustained ad income is key to local media profitability. Between 25% and 30% profit margins are typical for many local newspaper companies (Dear 2006). This is a reason why takeovers and mergers remain a constant feature of the industry.
“There has been a marked reduction in the number of companies publishing local newspapers.”
Companies maintain profit margins by doing the following:
- Minimise production costs through new printing technologies, and
- keeping labour costs low (Dear 2006).
Job cuts and non-replacement of staff also reduce production costs. “The NUJ argues that the strategy of cost-cutting by low wages and staff cuts and non-replacement, triggers a ‘spiral of decline’ in which you ‘end up with fewer page changes, fewer editions, less localised coverage and, inevitably, lower sales’ (Dear 2006: 8).
The consequence is editorial decline. Making money while sales fall has a critical impact on the newsgathering and reporting process.
- centralising subeditors means subs have little local knowledge.
- economic efficiency is high but the tie with the local community is ruptured (Lockwood 1999: 15).
“The real cost of ‘efficient’ printing is a shrinking news day with less time to investigate and report the news.”
“Newspapers are increasingly reporting ‘Yesterday’s news tomorrow’ (cited in Barter 2005: 4).
With printing staff fired, subs centralised and other admin tasks done elsewhere, buildings are mostly empty; then they get sold.
Location is important.
When offices are moved, the link between local papers and the local community and the local stories is broken. Being able to meet readers and local people is essential to ‘a healthy contacts book and a healthy local paper’ (Thom 2004: 21).
Fewer journalists also means an increasing reliance on press releases from local government or the Central Office of Information (Franklin 2004: 98-102) or copy from PA.
[[See Franklin (2004: 98-102) for how local newspapers rely on local government press offices; also Davis 2002: 24-25).]]
Harrison: journalists’ dependence on the ‘carefully prepared material provided by professional local government PROs’ has become so extensive that the town hall is becoming the last bastion of good municipal journalism [[said ironically]] (1998: 168).
Since 1997, and the election of Labour, there has been increasingly routine incursions by national, political, and government communication organisations such as the Government News Network (GNN) and the Central Office of Information into local media networks in order to manage and set the agenda for local discussions of gov. policy initiatives (Franklin and Richardson, 2002).
News has been standardised. Peter Oborne (1999) wrote about how a single press release with Blair’s byline was published verbatim in 100 different local newspapers: the only word changed was the name of the town.
This effectively leads to outsourcing news, using PA copy, which is flexible and cost-effective. “By default, PA has become the UK’s monopoly reporter” (Aspinall 2005: 2).
To increase circulation, the following has taken place:
- there has been a shift to tabloid size
- there is more tabloid content
- news is seldom anything the council is doing
- there is more emphasis on entertainment, consumer items and reports, and focus on human interest.
There is less investigative or critical journalism.
Low-paid and under-resourced journalists are more likely to be ‘supping’ with the devil rather than ‘attacking’ him.
There are a fewer reporters and a greater emphasis on the number of stories and not the quality of stories. Reporters are mostly rewriting press releases. There is also less training.
“All we’re doing is just trying to keep circulation up as a horse for advertising.”
Aspinall, C. (2005) ‘The news monopoly’, Free Press, 144, January/February p.2
Barter, M. (2005) ‘It’s money that matters’, Free Press, July / August, pp. 4-5
Davis, A. (2002) Public Relations Democracy, London: Sage.
Dear, J. (2006) ‘Put people before profits’, The Guardian, 2 January, p.8.
Franklin, B. (2004) Packaging Politics: Political Communication in Britain’s Media Democracy, London: Arnold, 2nd edn.
Franklin, B. (2005) ‘McJournalism? The local press and the McDonaldization thesis’, in Allan, S. (ed.) Journalism: Critical Essays, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, pp. 137-51.
Franklin, B. and Murphy, D. (1997) ‘The local rag in tatters? The decline of Britain’s local press’, in Bromley, M. and O’Malley, T. (eds) The Journalism Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 214-29.
Franklin, B. and Murphy, D. (1998) Making the Local News; Local Journalism in Context, London; Routledge.
Franklin, B. and Richardson, J. (2002) ‘Priming the Parish pump: political marketing and news management in local political communication networks’, The Journal of Political Marketing, 1 (1), pp. 117-49.
Hamer, M. (2000) The Press Association at Work, Unpublished MA thesis, John Moores University, Liverpool.
Hammond, S. (2000) Reaching the Regions: Government Communications and the Regional Media, Unpublished MA thesis, Trinity and All Saints University College, Leeds.
Harrison, S. (1998) ‘The local government agenda: news from the town hall’, in Franklin, B. and Murphy, D. (eds) Making the Local News: Local Journalism in Context, London: Routledge, pp. 157-70.
Lloyd, Chris (1999) Attacking the Devil: 130 Years of the Northern Echo. Darlington, Northern Echo.
Mintel (2005) Regional Newspapers, Mintel: Newspaper Society.
Murphy, D. (1976) The Silent Watchdog, London: Constable.
Oborne, P. (1999) Alastair Campbell, New Labour and the Rise of the Media Class, London: Aurum Press.
Thom, C. (2004) ‘Location is everything’, Press Gazette, 18 June, p.21
The Bristol Post apparently had a deal with Cary Grant to feature him whenever he came back to Bristol.