Johnston Press and the Sustainable Delivery of News

17:05 Monday 16th April 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: For 64 years the City of Peterborough has had a daily newspaper. But all that will come to an end in May, when the Evening Telegraph will become a weekly. There’s no word yet from its owners, Johnston Press, on any possible job losses. In a statement today, they defended the move, saying “We will extend our audience by increasing our on-line content.” It’s one of three regional papers making the move to weekly. The Northampton Chronicle and the Northampton Evening Telegraph will also cease printing daily from next month. Well joining me now is the Director of the Society of Editors, which is based in Cambridge, Bob Satchwell, himself a former regional newspaper editor in this area. Bob, good evening to you.
BOB SATCHWELL: Good evening.
CHRIS MANN: Why is this happening?
BOB SATCHWELL: Well it’s a combination of several factors, partly to do with the recession, partly to do with structural change within the whole of the media. That’s with new technology bringing in different ways of delivering the news. Then there are changing habits amongst the population, and also there are specific problems for the Johnston Press group. So all of those put together are leading to changes. And at least what they’re doing is they’re coming up with a strategy which they will see as being the way to maintain a strong presence in their regional areas for the future.
CHRIS MANN: But doesn’t it seem surprising that a robust city like Peterborough can’t support a daily newspaper?
BOB SATCHWELL: Well circulations of papers have gone down. Part of the problem is that people are beginning to think that you can get something for nothing. In this case it’s news. And in some ways they’re saying they’re not expecting to pay for news. And of course when you hear the news on the radio, or on the television, people don’t realise that they are actually paying for it. They pay for it through the licence fee for the BBC, and for commercial radio and commercial television they pay through advertising and so on. So they’re seeing that they’re not actually having to hand over cash. And on the internet of course, people generally tend to get news for nothing. And that’s the problem. News is very expensive to produce. It’s very expensive to keep reporters on a national level to keep them covering in Afghanistan, and it’s actually very expensive to keep a local paper covering the local courts, or the local councils and so on. So somebody has to pay. And what has happened, as fewer and fewer people are buying the papers, it doesn’t mean to say that they’re not wanting the news and not reading it. In fact there’s increasing evidence that the more availability there is of news say on the internet, and on other platforms, the more demand there is for news. And in fact readership may be going up, because newspapers are going on to websites and to other platforms.
CHRIS MANN: We all think of our local papers as being part of the community, part of the society, part of your identity even. How will it change Peterborough for not having a daily paper?
BOB SATCHWELL: The strategy, as Ashley Highfield, the boss of Johnston Press, is saying, and this is something which is being repeated across the country, because they are the second biggest regional newspaper publisher, what they’re saying is that their strategy has always been local, and to support local communities. And they want to do that better on different platforms. And really what they have to say, what every media organisation has to say now, it doesn’t matter about what the platform is, you’ve still got to produce the content, the editorial content, the news. That’s the most important and the key thing which has got to be remembered at all times.
CHRIS MANN: In time Bob, will there be a retreat from even weekly newspapers, so there’s nothing printed?
BOB SATCHWELL: Well no. I believe that weekly papers will stay there. I think what has happened is that people, instead of saying we want our daily dose of local news, they’re saying we prefer to have it in a weekly bundle, with updates on the internet, and on other platforms. What newspapers have done since time immemorial, is that they’ve produced afternoon papers, or evening papers, when it was the thing to do for the newspaper company. And they’ve produced that content and they’ve given it to the population in that form. What they have to say now is that, look, content is still very important, journalism is still very important, but what we’ve got to do is to deliver that news on the platforms, whether it’s print, or the internet, or on mobile, at a time when the public want it.
CHRIS MANN: And very briefly Bob, what of your former paper, the Cambridge News? What does this say about the possibilities there?
BOB SATCHWELL: Well all of these things, all papers, all daily papers, afternoon papers, in fact most of them are published in the morning, may well go that way. And it comes down to a point where the revenue has to be set against the delivery, whether it’s cheaper to do it on a weekly basis, rather than on a daily basis. The most important thing is to maintain the journalistic content though.
CHRIS MANN: Bob Satchwell, thank you.