New type of regional press set to emerge
SERVING THE needs of community is central to regional papers moving from traditional print to 24/7 media outlets, a conference on the challenges facing local press heard yesterday.
A new model for regional journalism was about to emerge as communities needed and demanded it, Joe Flaherty, president of the Regional Newspaper and Printers Association of Ireland, said.
Speaking at a symposium organised by the association and National Newspapers of Ireland, he said regional papers in other countries had shown community to be at the heart of the transition from print to digital. Community was central to Irish regional papers which had a strong sense of belonging and foundations that went back to the fight for independence, Mr Flaherty added.
Regional newspapers were “a niche product” and how they presented this product was “ a key challenge”, he said.
However, the fundamental principles would remain“to understand the needs of the community and to serve those needs”.
Also speaking positively about the transition facing regional papers was the chief executive of Johnston Press, the UK’s second-largest regional paper group, which owns 13 titles in Ireland.
The internet does not necessarily “cannibalise” regional newspapers, Ashley Highfield told the symposium in Dublin.
While the internet may have caused a 4 to 5 per cent decline in sales of the group’s local papers, it brought “20 times that in net new audiences who would never have bought the newspaper in the first place”, Mr Highfield said. He “strongly” believed the internet was “complementary” to print and attracted a different demographic that was younger, more male and more urban. He believed regional papers had reached the “bottom of a dip” in revenues.
The sharp fall in classified advertising for local papers in recent years meant readers were now buying papers “for news” and to find out about what is happening in their local community, he said.
Websites of most regional papers were “web 1.0” (where users can only view and not interact with webpages) but papers needed to become “curators and aggregators, not just broadcasters”, he said.
He also spoke about the need to improve and invest in the printed product, even if this meant raising the cover price. Some content and editorial functions could be centralised but local journalists on the ground would always be needed.
He aimed to have 25 per cent of the group’s revenues coming from digital by 2015, and 50 per cent by 2020. Papers needed to find the right subscription bundle for print, web and iPad applications, he said. But advertising rather than subscription paywalls were the future for local papers, he said.