The demise of the Nottingham (Evening) PostTagged as: journalism media news nottingham_evening_post nottingham_post
The beginning of March saw the publication of Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, which showed the sales of regional daily papers. Nearly all of these papers are suffering from falling circulation, but the biggest faller is local rag the Nottingham Post.
This continues a long-standing trend for the paper which in the second half of 2010, saw circulation fall 11.6% year on year to 40,974, a 3.7% fall period on period. This compounded a 14.6% fall in the first half of 2011.
The paper’s difficulties have not been arrested by the decision to redesign the paper and remove the "Evening" from the title in April 2010. A further redesign at the beginning of this year is unlikely to have made much difference either.
Nearly all newspapers (local and national) are struggling to maintain readers and this is often attributed to the ability of potential buyers to get the news from the internet, where papers often distribute their content for free. While there may be some truth to this it is noteworthy that the Post website fell by 2.0% in the last six months of 2011. Its recent and wildly unpopular website redesign cannot have helped.
The paper’s demise is in large part attributable to its reliance on what Guardian journalist Nick Davies dubbed "churnalism." In his analysis, proprietors with a single-minded focus on profit had driven an increase in the quantity of content in papers, while vastly reducing the number of journalists. This meant that journalists were "reduced to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false" (Flat Earth News, p.59).
A quick perusal of the Post on any day will inevitably turn up a bevy of articles virtually indistinguishable from the press releases on which they were based. In some cases this can help campaigns, who are able to get their message in the paper with minimal difficulty. Compare for instance, this article in the Post with the original press release. Nevertheless, it is not good for journalism.
The nine councils in Nottinghamshire are responsible for budgets adding up to hundreds of billions of pounds. The various NHS bureaucracies control similarly vast sums and the lives of thousands of people can depend on them. Add in the police, other public sector bodies, local companies and it is clear that there are many organisations locally who need to be held to account. Simply reprinting press releases is not good enough.
It is tempting to look to blogs and sites like Indymedia to take up this role and in some cases they can do, but investigative journalism is difficult and takes a long-time. Even the excellent NCC LOLs - the paradigm example of an well written, well researched "hyperlocal" blog - often relies on information uncovered by the Post. It isn’t unreasonable that people spending hours making their way through council documents and doing battle with spin doctors should want to be paid for it, just like any other job.
People were seeing the writing on the Wall for the Post last year and its future as a daily is surely not good. The paper’s offices have recently been reduced from three to one floors with the others to let. A while back there were rumours of the paper being given away free (like the Metro), but this seems to have been dropped.
A plausible scenario is that the paper will go weekly, as its Northcliffe stablemate the Lincolnshire Echo did last September. Done well this might actually be good for the Post. It would allow them to to ditch the filler and focus on less, but better quality news. Add in some decent inserts and they might even begin to reclaim some of their readers.
The future of the Post as we know it is clearly not great. A paper with few fans, many would no doubt welcome its demise or at the very least revel in the schadenfreude, but with nothing to replace it, the long-term effects could be serious.
The problem of funding investigative journalism in a capitalist society are not new and not limited to Nottingham. If and how we manage to deal with this issue may have a serious effect on the kind of society we find ourselves living in in years to come.