It’s been another tumultuous year for regional newspapers, with titles closing, ‘bold’ digital-only moves being made by some publishers, job cuts, promotions and, unbelievably, the advent of new titles rising above the doom and gloom.
So what does next year hold for the regional press sector? If 2014 is anything to go by, here is a possible run down of what 2015 might bring:
1. While Johnston Press execs talked of a ‘digital tipping point’ for online revenue in 2014, Trinity Mirror trumped the news by closing its newspapers in Berkshire and taking the titles online only. The announcement, made just before Christmas, saw around 50 job losses. In 2015 the proof will be in the pudding when the critics and industry counterparts will watch the progress of the sites with eagle-eyed interest. However, 2015 will not see rival newspaper companies following suit – they will only take that step when their online commercial profit seriously outweighs the revenue made by the print titles. In the meantime, news companies will continue to experiment with ‘free content’ and look to see how more can be used in order to cut costs. And watch this space to see more daily titles going weekly.
2. Similarly while some national titles turned off online commenting this year, regional news will not follow suit in 2015. Instead news companies will start to give more direction to journalists about expectations over interaction with commentators and using more comments and view points in the printed product than ever before.
3. Newspaper websites will increasingly blur the lines between paywalls and free content with the introduction of more advertising which holds power over the user. Readers will find themselves more than ever before having to click on or interact with adverts to have the full text released to them. Advertising will also start to link to the geography or subject of the news story on the page, with debates being raised about who makes the decision over what stories are tagged and who does the tagging; editorial staff will argue it is a commercial decision and responsibility. There are bound to be some clashes and ethical blunders along the way.
4. It will be the year for partnership working. This year saw Local World, Newsquest and Johnston Press join forces with local media businesses to create a new advertising portal which should offer serious weight and competition to online advertising space. 2015 will be the year for this project to take hold – if it proves a success it may pave the way for other partnerships between the once-rival news companies. It may also be the year that the BBC joins forces with regional newspapers and their websites to provide a conjoined multimedia offering – although this is questionable due to the long rocky road this potential partnership has already walked.
5. Newspapers will continue their cull of editorial staff, cutting costs and merging small teams into larger ‘news factories’ based in ‘central’ locations. Critics will continue to raise questions over quality and local knowledge.
But it’s not all bad.
6. With more and more journalists finding themselves jumping or being pushed from the newsroom in 2014 an army of talent has started to identify opportunities in terms of niche publications up and down the country. In 2015 this trend will continue, with new publications opening both online and in print, courting readers and revenue away from established titles. Many of these will cater for a specialist market governed by micro-location or hobbies and interests – stepping away from the traditional newspaper route of being one publication for all people.
7. The industry will continue to recruit, but those recruits will be expected to have dual capability online and in print. Digital and social media skills will be cited to be as important as NCTJ qualifications and news sense.
8. There will be some excellent, innovative and exciting coverage of 2015’s big events – not least the election in May. Speaking of which…
9. …Following hot in the footsteps of Newsquest’s The National – which has given its backing to Scottish independence – will come a UKIP-centric title determined to prize votes off just about anybody in time for May’s election. Inside the first edition there will be a life-sized campaign poster of Farage brandishing a pint. Lovely.
Let’s revisit in December 2015 to see if any of this proves correct.
Season’s greetings and best wishes for the New Year