Community news values

Regional newspapers are adapting to the digital age by offering their readers news when, where and how they want it, and it’s paying off, says Lynne Anderson.

The hunger for 24-hour news among increasingly tech-savvy consumers has altered the media landscape irrevocably – we are at a point of no return.

This was apparent as last year drew to a close. The appetite for information surrounding the murders in Ipswich was such that the Ipswich Evening Star produced 12 extra editions, ran up-to-the-minute stories online and produced a 16-page supplement. Extra editions sold out, Web traffic surged and the readership increased.

This is testament to the relationship local newspapers have with their audience, and the way in which people will turn to their local press for news and information in formats that work for them. For media owners prepared to adapt and develop alongside consumers, now is an exciting time – and the regional industry is a market leader.

Regional publishers are bringing their products to market through a growing array of media, formats and distribution methods in print and online. From free distribution of major daily newspapers in Manchester and Liverpool, to the launch of the London Lite and thelondonpaper, publishers are looking at new ways to invigorate their markets and give readers what works best for them. Let’s not forget, UK consumers don’t fall into one, homogeneous group. Through careful targeting and tailored, relevant content publishers can meet the needs of so many local variations.

When the Manchester Evening News announced last year that it was adopting a new distribution model, giving away the daily newspaper free in the city centre it was greeted with surprise and apprehension. But the move proved successful. It has enabled the newspaper to reach a broader demographic, particularly among the younger, affluent, commuter audience.

It has revolutionised the Manchester title and the newspaper’s weekday city centre distribution of 78,000 frees is 56% above the original target. Many readers are new, or readers of increased frequency, and they read the newspaper for an average of 26 minutes each issue (which has parity with the paid-for edition), 70% are 15 to 44 years old and 75% of readers are ABC1.

The Liverpool Daily Post adopted a part-paid, part-free distribution model – this time in a bid to increase penetration of the city’s business decision-makers above its previous 90% level. Over 4,000 copies of the newspaper are now made available in the city and along the waterfront, while another 2,000 are distributed to pedestrians. The move goes hand in hand with the introduction of new advertising packages, which enable advertisers to target an upmarket audience, with high disposable income, right across the age range.

Free papers have also made the news in the capital, with News International’s thelondonpaper battling head-on with Associated Newspapers’ London Lite. Both titles aim to increase penetration in the elusive younger market. The increased offering means people are able to choose the media they want at a time they want it, and ultimately this enables publishers to offer bigger audiences to advertisers.

But free editions aren’t the only innovation on the agenda. The distinction between morning and evening newspapers is diminishing as publishers seek to offer their titles to readers at the time that suits them best, to make the most of casual sales.

This means that many daily newspapers are bringing print times forward to ensure availability when people want to buy. Northcliffe’s Plymouth Herald, Trinity Mirror’s Coventry Telegraph and Newsquest’s Bolton News have all recently dropped the “Evening” from their titles in order to make the newspaper available earlier in the day.

Of course, distribution is not restricted to print. While newspapers remain the core product, publishers are using a range of media, from websites and podcasts, to local TV and radio, as well as supplements and niche publications. All these products make the most of the publisher’s in-depth local knowledge and the trusted newspaper brand, to provide news and information to people when and where they want it.

Those media likely to survive and flourish will be those that respond to the market. The regional press is not only reacting: it is innovating and leading the market. Distribution is key, and the focus is on providing the right product to carefully segmented targeted audiences at the right time, in the right way.

• Lynne Anderson, communications director, The Newspaper Society

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