Is there a message for ITV in success of 'local' papers?



Two days; two stories. On Thursday of last week, the Audit Bureau of Circulation released its six-monthly review of regional newspapers.

The following day, ITV announced it would be closing its regional operation in Nottingham and moving its East Midlands news programme to Birmingham.

On the face of it, completely unconnected. But let’s take a closer look.

If only the executives at the heart of the latter story had taken more interest in the former.

Had they done so, a rather compelling story would have emerged. The ABC figures show how weekly regional titles are continuing to buck the newspaper trend and actually grow. More than half of all paidfor weekly titles around the country put on sales between July and December 2003. And there were beacons of hope in the hugely competitive daily market, too, where more titles increased circulation than in the previous half-year.

The successful editors are in little doubt about what they believe they’re doing right.

Mansfield Chad editor Jeremy Plews: “The paper’s coverage of local news.”

Barnsley Chronicle editor Robert Cockroft: “The word is ‘local’.”

Southend Evening Echo editor Martin McNeill: “It’s down to local news.”

Exeter Express & Echo editor Steve Hall: “We have a very local focus.”

Thanks chaps. Is there a trend emerging? ITV is evidently not convinced there is. Its decision to shut down the Central studios in Nottingham – with the loss of 200 jobs – means that Central News East, the region’s news programme on the third channel, will be presented from Birmingham.

It’s the equivalent of a football club moving to a completely different town or city and expecting its fans to continue paying to watch. Well, Wimbledon FC have tried that in Milton Keynes. Now in free fall through the divisions, the club’s most recent home attendance was an utterly dismal 5,000.

By coincidence, that’s a number that’s already been surpassed by the signatures on an NUJ petition to keep the programme on Nottingham soil. An Early Day Motion backed by local MPs aims to achieve the same goal.

ITV says the £5m it plans to spend on a newsgathering centre somewhere in the East Midlands will reinforce its commitment to news in the region.

But without a programme hosted from their own area, viewers may not see it that way.

Perhaps they’ll go and buy a local paper instead.

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