Let us look at facts rather than some of the wild conjectures we have read lately.
We still have our 200 titles. We haven’t lost any and we have launched 20 new ones since the recession began: over half of these new ones being paid-for ‘hyper-local’ titles, launched in an attempt to replace lost national revenue with local volume.
We have a way to go yet but one of our centres has added £2,000 a week so far by means of these new papers.
Of our 40 operating centres, 10 are losing money at the moment, but 30 are not. The still profitable ones are, in many cases, well down but are offsetting the losses of the others so the whole of our group is coming through both the recession and the new competition with its head held high and well above water.
We have not made a single journalist compulsorily redundant throughout that five-and-a-half years.
Turnover and profit are well down compared with 2006 but this is a very bad recession and a good many businesses and industries are down. All previous recessions have ended and so will this one.
In the meantime our loss-makers are fighting back – hard.. It is mainly, but not solely, the loss-makers who have launched the new titles. Let me publicly acknowledge the fight they are making.
New competition? Yes, the internet, of course. We are involved with the internet on the fringe (every one of our newspapers has a website) but also treating it like any of the other previous new competitors – local commercial radio, local commercial TV, free newspapers, leaflets and so on.
We had our highest circulation and made our highest profit when all our competitors were going at us full blast. Lots of other local papers are fighting their way through this bad period just as we are or in different and perhaps better ways.
We have all taken a caning in the regional press but we are fighting back and winning. The local newspaper industry will survive this current recession and it will live with the internet.
Of course, we are making adjustments to our methods and our business models. We have had to do it before in my 65 years and we are doing it now.
The local printed newspaper is tough and resilient and more than 30m readers still want it. The local press is the most popular print medium.
Local news is wanted in great detail and in print, either on its own or as well as in other ways where they exist. If they or their church or their club, their children or their children’s school are in the news, they not only want to see it themselves, they want all their neighbours and friends to see it as well.
The local newspaper fulfils many roles and local people and local traders trust them and still want them in very considerable numbers. No one denies there is a problem right now but we are still here and we certainly intend to stay here.
A few, mainly free, weeklies have succumbed and we are sorry about them, but they are a small minority. The vast majority of weeklies have no intention of joining them. We intend to survive and become even more local as one of the ways to ensure it.
This piece is taken from the preface to What Do We Mean By Local? A collection of essays published this month by Abramis.