The demise of the Nottingham (Evening) Post

Tagged as: journalism media news nottingham_evening_post nottingham_post
Neighbourhoods: nottingham

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.

Comments

The problem isn't just journalism

Good, well-researched article (something you're unlikely to find in the Post anytime soon!)

I think the problem extends further than the quality of local journalism, however. Both the city and the county council have been caught out in all manner of corruption by the Post in recent years and most residents with even a passing awareness of local politics know what a shower they are. The problem seems to be that there is no way of holding them to account. We all know that certain individuals are rotten to the core, but they get voted back in, year after year.

An axe to grind?

It seems the author of this poorly constructed piece, which reads a little like a year 10's GCSE assignment, is unfamiliar with the real meaning of journalism and hasn't spent time reading the paper which they so readily dismiss.

The Nottingham Post may well be struggling but surely that is even more reason to buy it and keep Nottingham's honest news reporting alive. Nottingham is the sixth biggest city in the country and it needs and deserves a daily newspaper.

Tens of thousands of people buy the Post on a daily basis and the reports it offers are well researched and honest. The confused author of the above article clearly does not understand the demands on print media. The articles which they refer to as rehashed press releases are what journalists call filler: small summaries of events and minor news items which don't contain comment or debate.

In a time where a long standing, campaigning and worthy newspaper is struggling, other 'journalists' should be supporting and defending it, unless perhaps, they are finding it difficult to get a proper job on a newspaper - such an unnecessary and fictional dressing down could then be, perhaps, understood.

Whose axe is being ground?

"It seems the author of this poorly constructed piece, which reads a little like a year 10's GCSE assignment"

The author of the comment gets straight in with a wildly inaccurate attempt to belittle the original piece. It is clear from the start that her/his agenda is not to engage with it but to smear it.

"The Nottingham Post may well be struggling but surely that is even more reason to buy it and keep Nottingham's honest news reporting alive."

Anon makes a polemical point without indicating the part of the original post that disagrees with him/her.

"The confused author of the above article clearly does not understand the demands on print media."

It seems that the author is "confused" because s/he disagrees with Anon's point of view. Certainly Anon does not provide any evidence to support her/his claim.

Let's quote from the original now: "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""

This is a reference to a fairly sophisticated analysis of "the demands on print media". Indeed, Anon seems to agree in her/his own account of the use of "filler". Certainly Anon fails to point out how the original poster is wrong in her/his account.

"In a time where a long standing, campaigning and worthy newspaper is struggling, other 'journalists' should be supporting and defending it"

Note the use of scare quotes around the term journalists. Clearly Anon wishes to pour scorn on those who are not paid to report on events, especially the person who has written the original article.

The article does support the investigative journalism of the Post and expresses the author's worries about how large organisations would be held to account in its absence.

"...unless perhaps, they are finding it difficult to get a proper job on a newspaper - such an unnecessary and fictional dressing down could then be, perhaps, understood."

Again, Anon smears the author in an attempt to belittle them as a failed journalist without providing any evidence as to how they have arrived at this view. Anon claims the article is "an unnecessary and fictional dressing down" without providing any evidence why it is unnecessary or why it is fictional.

In conclusion, once the unjustified smearing has been removed from the above attempt at criticism, Anon's comment consists of:
1) A call to buy the Nottingham Post
2) An unsubstantiated assertion that the reports it offers are well researched and honest
3) An admission that the vast majority of articles in the paper are "filler"
4) An unreasoned assertion that all journalists should support the Nottingham Post

Given the defensiveness of the author's stance regarding an article evidencing the decline of the Post and their reflexive support for the paper coupled with an insistence that everyone else should unthinkingly support it, I would hazard a guess that Anon has vested interests in the Nottingham Post.

In conclusion this is a poor comment which fails to tackle the substance of the original argument and makes numerous unsubstantiated assertions. It's structure is incoherent and the author fails to even attempt to understand points of view other than his/her own.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to give an F grade to this GCSE coursework.

What?

I disagree with this article. Yes, there is some 'churnalism' in the Post, just as there is in the Guardian and the BBC regularly acts as a government mouthpiece these days.

But the Post does do serious investigative journalism. It seems odd to deny this and then totally contradict yourself with "Even the excellent NCC LOLs ... often relies on information uncovered by the Post."

As you say, investigative journalism is difficult and resource intensive. It is also, unfortunately, a rather thankless minority interest. Despite the Post's many articles on Nottm City Council's housing corruption and secrecy local elections in the City still attract abysmal turnouts. This suggests to me that most people would rather just stick their head in the sand.

You only have to look at the effort Jon Collins expends on slagging off the Post (and in particular Charles Walker) to see they get them worried. He also gleefully celebrates the Post's drop in circulation by the way. You perhaps should worry about the company you keep.