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Regional press needs greater integration study suggests

26 April 2013

Lyndsey Boardman

Leading UCLan academic publishes report on regional press innovation and consolidation

While the regional newspaper industry is likely to see further consolidation of both organisations and operations - which has seen its workforce almost halve over the past five years - the sector’s future success will depend on greater integration with the digital economy, according to a leading academic from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

François Nel, director of the Journalism Leaders Programme at the University, completed, ‘Business model innovation and integration in the British local newspaper industry’ for New Economic Models in the Digital Economy (NEMODE), an initiative of the Research Councils UK's Digital Economy strand. The study analyses the regional press business models on industry-wide, organisational and operational levels.

The 16-page report considers how publishers have responded to the challenges that their traditional business models face through cases drawn from two of the industry’s largest companies, Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror.

François notes that the newspaper publishers have “heeded the call to fight back against both cyclical and structural challenges by dramatically reducing costs and reconfiguring operations”. As a result, the companies have continued to post profits, but have seen dramatic drops in their share prices.

He examines Johnston Press CEO Ashley Highfield’s plans to increase the company’s digital revenue from five percent to 50 percent by 2020, as well as providing a platform for consumer interaction with a vision to change the ratio of content created by journalists and audiences from 90:10 in 2011 to 50:50 by 2020.

“Local newspaper publishers have been busy. But, through whichever lens one chooses to look, the results have been uneven. And formidable challenges remain - particularly as audiences shift their access to digital media from PCs to mobiles.”

François also cites Trinity Mirror’s new ‘Trinity Mirror One’ strategy, which will see its regional and national newsrooms effectively operating as centres in a company-wide news wire service, as “one to watch.”

He notes that the digital shift has also changed the roles of journalists from specific titles such as ‘reporter’ and ‘sub-editor’ to the more general ‘multi-media journalist’ with greater responsibilities across a range of platforms, writing “The traditional specialist roles of the content makers had expanded significantly in both nature and responsibility.”

François proposes that if the British regional press is to survive and flourish, then companies need to develop strategies with a deeper lateral integration with the digital economy, particularly when considering mobile access to news.

He writes: “Local newspaper publishers have been busy. But, through whichever lens one chooses to look, the results have been uneven. And formidable challenges remain - particularly as audiences shift their access to digital media from PCs to mobiles.”

The full report can be viewed here or downloaded from Francois’ blog (http://forthemedia.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/pressedtochange.html). The study was amongst the first four case studies to be funded by the NEMODE competition which called for case studies that “illustrated the impact of digital technology on a sector or sub sector of the economy.”