A stack of newspapers

What innovation in newspapers looks like

A few weeks ago I was lucky to take part in a reunion of former colleagues from the Sandwell office of the regional daily paper I worked for.

We met, we laughed and we shouted over the loud music and it struck me – again – that the newspaper industry I loved doesn’t exist anymore.

Once, the Express & Star based in Wolverhampton was the largest regional newspaper outside of London. In 2010, it was still selling 120,000 copies a day. In 2022, it was 17,000. When I joined, there were 50 reporters and today there are just seven with five photographers.

This is all just the fond memories of a former hack really isn’t it?

It’s true the good memories are fond. As a team we would go the extra mile for each other in a way that my time since never got close to. But, what does innovation in newspapers look like these days?

Newspapers today

Well, firstly they’re not newspapers they’re news brands. In the early years of my time in local government, the press release and photo call were king. From 2008, my battle was to lead the council towards a more digital future.

Everywhere that I’ve taken a close look at the content newspapers produce today has centred on Facebook, and this has become a huge driver for local journalism.

The classic loop has been for a reporter to spot a story in a Facebook group, write it up then re-post it into the Facebook group. Even the smallest newspaper posts 20 times a day to their Facebook page.

One review I carried out this year, in the south of England, showed that just 55 per cent of Facebook content was local news and 20 per cent national stories. Around five per cent were traffic generating memes. ‘It’s Friday, what’s your favourite place to get fish and chips?’ is one example.

Now, all of this would have appalled the news editors and chief reporters I had at the Express & Star. Yes, this re-balance is building an income based on a digital future. But I’m not convinced battling through pop-ups to reach a story that’s actually from 200 miles away builds trust in journalism.

Newspapers tomorrow

What’s heartening is the level of innovation in news.

I took a look this week at The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University’s Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2022.

As an industry they’re looking at podcasts, with 80 per cent saying they’d invest more in these and with 70 per cent saying they’d do more with email newsletters.

Interestingly, as an industry they’re looking to do less with Facebook and Twitter and more with Instagram (54 per cent said they’d do more), 44 per cent more with TikTok and 43 per cent YouTube.

For TikTok, this isn’t just news brands like BBC News here in Ukraine, Vice News and the Daily Telegraph’s Ukraine bulletin compiled in London from user generated content but also reporters like Matthew Cassell shooting unpolished footage from a war zone.

In Instagram, its things like the Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo’s nostalgia content on Instagram or the Glasgow Herald’s editorials as Instagram stories.

PR and comms tomorrow

The relationship between communications and journalism has often been at arms length. They’re two bickering cousins who often rely on each other more than they would like to say. Of course, the public sector should think of ways to talk to its audience directly. That’s important. But so is keeping an eye on where journalism is going.

Burnt out by a decade of austerity and two years of pandemic I’m not sure that public sector communications is chomping at the bit for change. But I’ve never met a communications person yet who doesn’t want to reach an audience.


Image by Image Source on iStock

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