Does cinema offer a model to save regional newspapers?

cinema intIt’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.

We relied on a neat summary of May’s speech today (Monday 11 November) by Alison Gow – editor of Trinity Mirror’s North Wales-based Daily Post.

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.

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1 Response to Does cinema offer a model to save regional newspapers?

  1. Mark Hawkins says:

    Thought provoking blog. A regular pain is how advertising significantly impairs the user experience of local news websites, but this can’t be avoided as it’s such a revenue necessity for them. Will more people pay online subscriptions for higher quality? Hard to say.

    I’m not sure the cinema comparison stacks up as news consumption has traditionally been as much a personal experience (with a newspaper or radio), as it has a communal experience. Cinemas rely on an audience wanting novel, vivid, shared experiences in a way that news doesn’t. News is consumed in all sorts of forms. You might argue that so is film, but it’s less evenly balanced across various platforms and the industry finances are probably slightly more healthy.

    With general local media implosions, a further concern must be the deficit in jobs and opportunities for a high number of similarly skilled media workers; from underemployed new graduates to unfulfilled young professionals and nervous mid-career workers. How many independents and freelancers can be sustained? The newspaper’s equivalent out-of-town multiplex seems difficult to predict from here.

    Sorry. Terribly bleak comment. Off to look at videos of baby monkeys…

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