Local newspapers can provide an invaluable service by giving readers information that we all take for granted
A survey by Coopers and Lybrand a few years ago showed thta local and regional newspapers’ powerbase was their store of information –and they may not survive unless they continue to protect it. The report said that publishers needed to become “local information franchises”, packaging and selling their wares through a whole range of distribution technologies.
Many regional newspaper publishers have grasped the nettle, and make local information available to the public through teletext, the internet and telephone lines containing recorded information, as well as on the pages of the newspaper. Perhaps text messaging will be the next step.
Regional newspapers will have to keep working hard to protect their position as the market leaders in providing local news and information. There are more rivals than ever before. Despite the threats from our competitors, it still surprises me how much local information is difficult to find –and not available in the weekly or daily local newspaper. Ask yourself –how easy is it to find a duty chemist? Or an emergency dentist? Or even the ever-elusive time of a film at the cinema? Digging out simple facts like these can still be frustrating at times. If a local newspaper wants to remain a market leader at the editorial and commercial forefront as an information provider, it should consider proving one or two pages a week of things like:
School holiday dates and the days that different schools have INSET days –still a mystery to many parents.
Details of road works and traffic diversions.
Travel information –bus and train timetable changes.
Opening and closing times of shopping centres –have you ever tried to discover what time Ikea shuts in a Saturday or DFS opens on a Sunday morning?
Best buys –a selection of special offers from a range of local supermarkets.
Payment arrangements at different car parks –so readers will not drive in and discover that they should have brought a £1 coin with them and then spend 10 minutes driving round trying to change a fiver.
Details of supermarkets that require a £1 deposit for trolleys –again sparing the reader the 10 minute drive described above.
Emergency numbers for all essential services –gas, electricity, phone, water. doctors and dentists.
Things to do, places to go and things worth seeing in school holidays –still very difficult to discover for many parents.
And much, much more, all designed to make life smoother and easier for our readers. The way we present the information is important. Journalists may not be the best people to ask –graphic designers come into their own here. Our readers are used to seeing information in “windows” and on “manus” on their PCs, so information should be presented in a similar fashion. We should assess information that is presented in news stories and fillers and ask whether it would be more accessible as a “listing”.
Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services
By Cleland Thom