The state of newspapers and the value of news

This is the second in our series of blogposts on the C&binet conference in London which took place this week. Our first sesssion was introduced with a presentation from Enders Analysis (below) about the state of local media from the newspapers’ perspective. The numbers were pretty harrowing but largely expected.

The second slide shows from 2001 circulation numbers from regional and national news started to decline. And yet slide three shows how comparatively little time readers spend online than they do reading newspapers – so is less news being consumed all round?

Far from it, was the consensus from those at the conference. News is being consumed today more than ever. But the relatively little time readers will spend skimming across webpages is no incentive for advertisers to migrate online – hence the combination of the digital revolution and the recession has meant job cuts and a number of regional papers no longer able to continue.

Some points in the discussion focused on whether quality journalism would be lost as regional newspapers fold and are not emulated in a similar way online. It was argued some regional news journalists, with the added work load from staff cuts and times pressures from uploading their own content online, no longer have the time in their day to do what is known as ‘investigative’ or ‘accountability‘ journalism.

Others felt local media was still providing this necessary service of holding authorities to account. Either way it was agreed things could be done to make sure accountability journalism continued – streaming council meetings and making sure bloggers were treated as local media by authorities to ensure cooperation were some suggestions.

There was talk about the impact of the changing times on the quality of journalism. ‘What makes good journalism’ was too controversial a debate to get into – but in defence of online journalism those from the US said the bigger news organisations could no longer get away with just putting up every article or anything online – but had to make sure content was equal or better in quality than print.

Trust was another issue raised – trust of the voice being important for readers, regardless of the way the news is delivered. It is also the strength of the social capital gained from reporting local events which is more important than how it is produced.

This opening discussion on the state of news today was a precursor to looking at hyperlocal models later in the conference. But there is a common misconception hyperlocal websites are trying to emulate gaps left by regional media online. It is true part of the reason online news start-ups have appeared is ex-journalists trying to fill the gaps in news coverage regional media have left behind. But hyperlocal sites are sprouting up all across the UK and most of them are not news as we know it. They are created by citizens (voluntarily) inspired by having some information they wish to publish, and now being able to do so with online tools and social media. These sites focus on a particular community or single issue of interest.

“We have to radically change our view of engaging a community and who our advertisers are and business efficiency through volunteerism.”

Part of the debate about the future of news is coming to terms with the fact it will not be reborn as an online version of what was there before. The media is integral to our living in a democratic society and noone doubts the value of news and accountability journalism – but citizens publishing news and information of interest to them are making sure democracy increases rather than fades out with regional news.