Who's Brave Enough To Admit Local Media Is Doomed?

Local media is very similar to libraries. If someone dares even question asking both customers to leave a library an hour earlier to save on electricity costs -- or heaven forbid, suggests a closure -- you can bet there will be trouble. People will line up from every social corner and every side of the political spectrum to denounce the plans. Ask them when was the last time they used the library or how often they go there and you usually hit a brick wall. It's the same when radio shows or stations close. People say one thing, but their actions -- which form the economic argument of whether an entity should carry on or close -- are very different.

Which brings us to local. It is heralded as the new big thing, particularly among people who are keen to get their hands on some of the £40m that Jeremy Hunt was throwing at it while Culture Secretary five years ago in a bid to create excitement and rejuvenate a dying area. As anyone will tell you, the moment you have to throw millions at something to get people excited is the moment you probably realise you'd be better taking it with you into the new job and building a hospital department or two instead.

Nevertheless, the excitement has been created. Norwich's Mustard TV started broadcasts this week, Grimsby's local tv station has been going for several months and London Live (backed by The Evening Standard) is due to begin transmissions on Monday. So there is understandably a lot of interest.

Take a look at local papers and commercial radio stations, which haven't had government money thrown at them, and it's a different story. Many papers have closed, as have many of the radio stations that have not merged in to a quasi-national station, which still pretends to be local. Those papers which remain are readily adopting a digital first strategy, as Trinity Mirror has signaled today. It's hardly surprising that local papers are struggling and looking to digital first when one considers that Group M figures suggest local newspaper print advertising revenues have more than halved in just seven years.

The ultimate irony is, of course, that while the government gives away £40m and relaxes rules on the percentage of adverts allowed per hour, it is the taxpayer funding the BBC that these local stations and newspapers will compete against for news audiences. Which would you rather read or tune in to, a media outlet with the name BBC in it and with no adverts or the commercial alternative? While local apologists will say the BBC deals with regional radio, text and television digital news, and probably be right, it's a moot point. There simply aren't the budgets to support widespread proliferation of digital media. 

Disagree? Okay -- when was the last time you needed to buy a something or another and reached for the local paper to see if a retailer had one or if there was a classified advert for the item? When was the last time you actively sought out a newspaper to check the real estate listing rather than simply search on Rightmove and Zoopla? Same question for cars and the inevitable search on AutoTrader. The final nail in the coffin. Local roads are closed. Do you try to remember the name of the local newspaper you're sure covers your area and add to see if there is information online, or do you go on Facebook and Twitter to see if friends have had a similar experience?

It's with a very heavy heart that any journalist such as myself who cut their teeth on local newspapers (in my case in London area), says local is not the huge opportunity it is made out to be. The simple truth, however, is there isn't the budget to support the titles that are there already, why would anyone think it's a budding opportunity worthy of more local sites and television stations?

If you think the local accountants and chimney sweep who have never considered advertising because of the perception campaigns have to be national and costly, just type in the professional you're looking for with your village name or town in Google, and you will have your answer.

The litmus test. The brands who are saying all the right things about local being so exciting and following the party line. Ask them for proof. What has their local spend been like over the past five years? With all this new excitement and major opportunities, by how much will it be increasing this year and next?

It's an inconvenient truth. But it is a sad truth nonetheless.

1 comment about "Who's Brave Enough To Admit Local Media Is Doomed?".
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  1. Roy Dahl from RoDa, March 26, 2014 at 11:48 a.m.

    It may be like this in the UK, but in Norway the local newspapers live OK side by side by the nationals, long as they have financial support from the government

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