It’s hard to be optimistic about the prospects for newspapers in Britain, especially local and regional titles, which appear trapped in a vicious cycle of falling sales and reduced advertising revenue.
But in her keynote speech at the Society of Editors conference, UK Home Secretary Theresa May, drew an interesting comparison with cinema – reports of whose impending death in the ’80s and ’90s turned out to be greatly exaggerated.
Gow reports (live) how May acknowledged falling sales and advertising as the biggest threats facing journalism.
She said somber reductions meant that newspapers would soon disappear, and the market would shrink and disappear, but that she remembered when something similar was said about cinema – killed by tv, video, DVD etc, and: “They are still with us and doing well.”
The comparison with cinema certainly prompts some thought. Those of us who are old enough will remember cinema being written-off, with the advent of home video in the 1980s. Yet it’s still around and stronger than ever.
Newspapers have been in decline for decades – the Western Mail sold 100,000 a day in the early 1970s, 76,000 by the mid-80s, 60,000 in the mid-90s, and now fewer than 24,000. The industry was already suffering, when the internet, social media and the recession came along to administer what appear to be the death blows.
Cinema similarly had already been fading, when the VCR and the idea of “home cinema” arrived.
Cinema is much healthier today, but it’s in a quite different form. Privately-owned picture houses and even city-centre chain cinemas (remember the ABC and Odeon in your high street?) have gone. Instead we have large out-of-town multiplexes, offering a quite different experience.
So, is it a fair comparison? If so, what will be the newspaper industry’s equivalent of the out-of-town multiplex?
We know that the paper product is only part of the offering from our regional press these days. They have websites, social media accounts, electronic editions and apps. The key for the regional press will be to find a way to make enough money to maintain teams of professional journalists – and fast.
You may be interested in previous posts on hyperlocal sites as the possible future for local journalism and on the industry’s decline impacting on newsroom diversity, as well as this more positive look at Wales’ Trinity Mirror dailies launching their free apps.