(Don’t) Read All About It

A couple of days ago, my local paper carried four full page adverts. For itself. They were shouting about the various ways in which I could get content online – through the traditional website, through an app which displayed a digital edition of the front page, and another app for breaking news stories. 

Some had been developed for specific platforms, such as Android devices, which is fair enough. But it struck me as a frenzied attempt to drive readers away from the physical printed newspaper. It’s almost as if they’d rather not print a paper at all. An odd strategy, or a brave admission of the inevitable?

Local newspapers have seen massive declines in sales of print copies, while at the same time facing the same level of increasing competition as other traditional news outlets. “Linear” consumption, as it’s known (going to a single source and reading/watching/listening at the time of broadcast/publication) is being rapidly replaced by on demand. Be it a live feed or a catch up service, the landscape of traditional journalism is changing.

The BBC has often been accused of threatening the local newspaper market. Several years ago, the industry body The Newspaper Society halted plans for hyper local BBC News websites, which would have carried bespoke video and audio content. In some ways, this may have been a blessing in disguise, since similar experiments by the very same newspapers who were moaning were quietly and quickly dropped.

More recently, Chancellor George Osborne suggested that the BBC (as a whole) was becoming “imperialistic”. His argument was that the BBC website was too big for its own good, swallowing up the online market which – is his view – should be reserved for the newspapers. Perhaps he’d forgotten that the BBC was forced by the last Government to foot the bill for the World Service, previously funded by the imperialistic Foreign Office? Or maybe he wasn’t aware of the millions of pounds the BBC generates for the UK’s creative industries by sellings its successful programmes around the world. Is there really a difference between exporting drama or exporting steel girders?

So, in yet another move largely to pacify the competition – and to recognise the pace of change – the BBC is now rolling out Local Live sites. Some have been in operation for a while, others are slowly following. The idea is to aggregate all content from that area in one place, openly promoting (among other things) the local newspapers.

It’s hard to imagine any commercial publication doing anything similar. The idea of a reciprocal partnership would be laughed out of town. And I’m not about to suggest that Local Live is the panacea for all of the local news media’s woes. However, it is there to encourage the spirit of co-operation, just as the BBC does with City TV channels (whose start up costs were funded by the Licence Fee). 

It’s not perfect. But it might just help those commercial apps thrive.

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