Regional papers – a downward spiral?

Over the last week I have taken part in two conversations with people about the death of the local paper industry. Neither of them are associated with journalism in any way, but both expressed sincere disbelief – even shock – at the thought of regional papers dying a slow death. 

One of those people was a doctor in his 60’s and the other a 23-year-old man. Both insisted regional papers would be just fine because ‘people will always want to sit down with a cup of tea and flick through the paper’. And, ironically, the younger of the pair stated he ‘would not read the news if he had to do so on the internet’.

I think I must have just assumed that the general public (not those listening to weekly or even daily lectures on how journalism is changing) would still have a fair idea of what was going on with the decline of the regionals. But the fact that they didn’t made me think – what if it’s not all bad? 

Then I came across this article. Hold the front page are talking about my home town’s local paper and the serious job cuts being faced by employees there – and my moment of regional paper orientated optimism was over. It is dying a death. So they need to keep up with the changes – and fast.

As Rick Waghorn mentioned in our lecture last week: “Local papers have thrived on local monopolies. One thing the web does not do is local monopolies.” Which is a bit of a shame really.

So the solution – most definitely backed by Rick Waghorn is – get it on the net. And as was suggested by Jeff Jarvis, ‘what you don’t do best – link to the rest.’

Seems logical enough – but will that really prove to be a successful way of attracting readers, and perhaps more importantly – keeping them? Do readers want all their news and information spread about or do they want it in one easily accessible chunk? I suppose only time will tell.

But what I do completely agree with is the importance of user generated content. Communications Editor for The Telegraph,Shane Richmond proved its importance when talking about the blog centre ‘My Telegraph’ which is proving to be a not only successful, but revolutionary, piece of technological and socialogical journalistic engineering.

But it’s probably easier for ‘My Telegraph’ to attract thousands of users to its blogosphere than it is for Torquay’s Herald Express, and here lies the problem of making any sort of money from a local online journalism industry attempting to attract readers using user generated content.

Rick Waghorn, creator of firmly believes in the production of ‘’ websites. Sites that potentially could deliver all the local news to its audience straight from one reporter and one computer.

But why should we listen one ‘localwriter’ over anyone else? Is it too simple to be appealing?

A facebook message was sent to me from my local paper (the aforementioned Herald Express) on Tuesday regarding an incident involving an old woman and a lorry. I then read the following 13 comments left under the note and got pretty much all  the information I needed from them.

This is what I was sent by the paper – a generic facebook note.


Torquay HeraldExpress wrote a new note.

Paignton ‘serious accident’

PALACE Avenue in Paignton town centre was closed just before midday on Monday after reports of a serious accident involving a lorry and a pedestrian.

Police said they expected the road to be closed for some time.


Then the comments started flooding in – steadily exposing the story. All from user generated content posted as comments on facebook:




– Debbie Da’silva-Dias at 1:15pm December 1

ohno, hope no one is too badly hurt

– Lee Hayward at 2:05pm December 1

Police were originally saying it was a fatal.

– Caron Neal at 2:19pm December 1I’ve just heard on Palm 105.5 it looks if Palace Avenue is going to be closed for quiet sometime if that is the case it must be something very serious.

– Nikki Bickerton ‘was Howe’ at 2:37pm December 1

as far as i know it is a fatal…..friend walked past and they had a blanket totally covering her 😦

– Amanda Hassall at 2:46pm December 1

just come out of work and heard from someone who was there at the time and said its a fatal and the big issue man covered her over with his blanket it was really ugly apparently

– Caron Neal at 3:02pm December 1

Palm 105.5 said that the Police are keeping Palace Avenue closed till 7.30pm. apparently the woman who was injuried in the accident is in a serious condition at Torbay Hospital it has just been reported.

– Dianne Bradley at 3:16pm December 1

poor thing, from what my son inlaw saw, he dont think she will make it, he was comforting some one that saw it happen, he is a bit shaken up by it too,

– Jemma Stacey at 3:47pm December 1

My sister was walking past earlier todaythere was police ambulance and fire there. she heard some one talking about it they said it was quite some time after it had happend and there was a big blue tarpolen put up. the fire men were still trying to clean up the mess aparently, the lorry ran right over her. it is such a shock. 

i havent heard anything since but by the sounds of the clear up i dont expect the elderly lady servived. 

my heart goes out to everyone involved.


– Caron Neal at 4:42pm December 1

As an ex A & E nurse I know the doctors & nurses at Torbay Hospital will be doing their utter most best to save the elderly lady if she’s in good health she might pull through but it depends on her internal injuries.

my heart goes out to her family

– Lee Hayward at 4:42pm December 1

This was a particularly nasty collision. The area is still closed and will stay that way for a while yet. The elderly lady did not survive.

– Naomi Williams at 6:49pm December 1

the lady has died!

– Debbie Da’silva-Dias at 8:13pm December 1

Awful, they were still all there clearing up at 5 oclock.

– Vanessa Claire Grimston at 10:10pm December 1

Yeah unfort the old lady didnt survive my thoughts go out to her family x

– Amanda Hassall at 10:28pm December 1

they didnt clear away till 8.15




Ok so here we’ve been given pretty much all the information any reader would need – who? what? where? why? when?  Yep it’s all covered. All we’re missing are a couple of pictures and a few quotes.

But are they needed? I would suggest the facts in this story and the facebook style exposition makes it unusually compelling. Plus it was free. 

Now when I saw first saw these comments I thought – wow what a fantastic example of how user generated content is working –  then I got a little concerned about the role of the journalist in all this. Because other than the prompting ‘note’ there is absolutely no need for a journalist to be involved at all. Of course not all stories could work like this but it did drill home the idea that journalists are becoming facilitators as much as they are reporters – and adds to my now very real concern for local papers.

So perhaps mylocalwriter is the way forward – but I have to agree with the two people I spoke to about the decline of the regional. It just won’t be the same. 


2 responses to “Regional papers – a downward spiral?

  1. Mark Halperin was here last night. From Time magazine. I listened to him speak about the state of the media, and campaign 2008. He cited surveys about the interest in the young in current events. They expressed surface interest. Yet these were the non-readers of the news. The indifference of youth was not new, to the news. But it now was making a financial impact.

    Listening to Mark Halperin, he cited the remaining 7 news organizations in the world. The financial success of the organization would determine what they could cover in the future. Local organization did not have the financial strength. To cover, to explain what was happening. In a changing world.

    Listening to Mark Halperin, I thought of the indifference of youth. Indifference to the news, to religion, to God? (See – “Guys with Miters.”) The world had changed. Kids had grown up in the 401K world, the era of leveraged buyouts, hedge funds. Leadership had been from afar all of their lives, with corporations and even church leaders coming from places far away, sent like in the days of the British Raj, as the Brits tried to rule India. (contd)

  2. Is Facebook the right medium for discussing someones death? An interesting use of citizen journalism but discussing how long it took to ‘clear it up’ is verging on the distasteful.

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