The exclusive YouGov survey published in this week’s Press Gazette provides the regional press with a wake-up call – and for once it is a good one.
Profit margins may have dropped over the last year, as have most circulations. But when people are asked what they consider to be the best source of information about the place they live, the majority say it is their local newspaper, way ahead of TV, radio and other websites.
The reason for this dominance is a simple one: providing the public with quality information about the place they live is an enormously labour-intensive task and one that only the regional dailies and local weeklies have the resources to undertake.
Radio and TV may come along for the big setpiece borough or county council meetings. But it will be a reporter from the local paper who troops along week in week out to the parish and town council meetings covering everything from minor planning rows to litter and dog mess.
TV and radio will cover the big house fires, murders or motorway pile-ups. But it is the local newspaper reporters who, as well covering the big stuff, provide their readers with a more comprehensive picture of minor burglaries, street thefts and danger roads.
According to the Newspaper Society, more than 13,000 journalists work in the regional press – far more than any other journalism sector.
And the press owners would do well to remember it is this manpower that gives them the edge.
The survey highlights a cause for concern: 18- to 24-year-olds are the group least likely to favour local papers as the best source of local information.
But at 41 per cent, even that figure rebuffs the claim that those convinced that the younger generation is only interested in social networking websites such as Myspace and Facebook.