In the wake of the latest round of redundancies at Reach, we spoke to Dr Richard Jones, Director of Journalism, Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Salford about what this means for the sector.
We started by asking whether given the economic situation and change in how people consume their news, whether this was something we should have expected.
“I’m afraid this sort of grim announcement has become all too common in the local and regional press. What makes this one particularly saddening is the scale of the cuts, the fact it follows previous rounds of redundancies at Reach in the recent past and that these have been announced so close to Christmas.
“But we should not be completely surprised. Reach is a commercial company and so their newspapers and websites must make a profit to serve their shareholders and ultimately survive, all of which is very difficult given they are operating in an increasingly competitive media and technology landscape. Reach also has to deal with legacy issues including servicing pension funds and yet more litigation around alleged phone hacking.”
What impact do you think this will have on local and regional reporting?
“There will be fewer professional journalists so we will be a little less well informed about what is happening in our communities. The volume of content produced by these websites and newspapers may not decline, but more of the news we get will be produced centrally and be a bit more generic.
“That’s not to say stories about viral videos or TV shows won’t be interesting to people and widely read, though. It’s easy to criticise Reach for producing lots of this kind of content but in truth local newspapers have always included lots of softer items amid the hard news.”
Do you think this is a short term hit, or are we about to see a new way of publishing? Like low cost, highly targeted hyperlocal outfits serving communities, rather than the big publishers?
“I started my own hyperlocal site in Saddleworth back in 2010 and the problems facing start-ups are the same now as they were then: there is an audience for good quality coverage of a local area, but converting those readers into enough money to employ journalists and commercial staff and create a sustainable business is desperately difficult.
“The Manchester Mill and its sister titles are a welcome addition to the local media landscape, but that model of a smaller number of high-quality articles delivered to subscribers is only one part of the puzzle. Those sites are not attempting the sort of comprehensive coverage of everything from courts to local sport that a newspaper usually provides.
“Coverage of councils is already paid for using BBC licence fee money and I think similar schemes to address other gaps in public interest reporting might have to be considered, although giving any further cash to companies like Reach would be highly controversial.”
There has been some consolidation in publishing already, is this likely to signal more?
“It’s certainly possible. The growing cost of producing printed newspapers is a key problem and further centralising production of those would be attractive I’m sure. But beyond its smaller rival National World, which recently bought a series of titles in the Midlands including the Wolverhampton Express and Star, it’s not clear who would be on a list of potential suitors for Reach.”
Do you worry about the future for your journalism students/graduates?
“Not really. When I was a journalism student the only routes into the media seemed to be working in the local press or local radio. Now, students use their range of journalism and content creation skills to get all kinds of jobs across the media industries. The talent coming through in graduates is greater than ever and although it’s a terrible shame local newspaper companies are no longer able to hire as many staff as they once did, others are delighted to.”