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Last Updated: Friday, 21 September 2007, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Are local papers in terminal decline?
By Sarah Bell
BBC News

The Bath Chronicle
There are 1,300 local newspapers in Britain
The Bath Chronicle has made history by switching from daily to weekly publication after falling sales. What does this say about the health of local papers?

Are Britain's 1,300 daily, weekly, free and paid-for titles in terminal decline or just in need of a little pepping up?

The Chronicle, which launched as a weekly but became a daily in 1877, saw its sales drop from 13,871 in the second half of 2005 to 12,363 in the same period in 2006.

Roy Greenslade, a media professor and commentator, said: "The Bath Chronicle situation of falling sales is being replicated across Britain. It is the first of the daily papers which are going to find it impossible to go on publishing every day."

But the Newspaper Society, which represents and promotes Britain's local press, says the market is actually thriving.

'Massive surge'

Lynn Anderson, its communications director, said: "The situation is very healthy and it is an exciting time because the amount of competition has raised the bar and forced everyone to raise their game.

"There is so much competition now and everyone wants a slice of 'local'.

"Google and the Sun are both focusing on localisation and of course the BBC and ITV are both planning ultra-local services.

"There are now lots of ultra-local titles, magazines and niche publications and there has been a massive surge in the number of different platforms."

The days of picking up tales from local council meetings or the magistrates' court on a weekly or even daily basis from your newsagent are long gone.

Breaking news

Now local papers are providing news as it breaks on their websites.

Mrs Anderson said: "The days of advertisers just looking at local newspaper circulation figures to judge where was the best place to advertise are long gone.

"Most papers have an online side and it's now a question of how many eyeballs will see your ad on different platforms.

"There are now 1,000 newspaper websites and 1,300 papers. Around 100 of them are dailies."

Switching from daily to weekly is just one trick newspaper companies have used to fight falling sales.

"In the past they used to be evenings but many, such as the Argus in Brighton, have switched and now come out in the morning.

"There is also a growing move to part paid and part free, such as the Manchester Evening News which recently piloted giving away free copies of the paper in the city centre."

'Continuous cuts'

But Barry Fitzpatrick, who represents newspapers at the National Union of Journalists, said the switch represented newspaper companies' attitude towards their papers.

I believe the ceasing of a daily paper for Bath is a very poor decision
John Patrick

"I think it says it all. There is a continuous process of cuts in local papers. It demonstrates that they no longer have any concept of what they are there to do, which is to provide a news service for the community.

"They are all rushing to the new future dawn of interactive media. This will leave whole sectors of the community without access to daily news. Not everybody has a computer and not everybody wants one.

"The only motivation for companies is profit. A newspaper is a service which may produce a profit but that is not its primary reason for existence. Once you allow papers to just be for profit, you inevitably risk what it is there to do."

'Poor decision'

And this is a view backed up by some readers of the Bath Chronicle, who have commented on its website.

John Patrick, from Fairfield Park, said: "I believe the ceasing of a daily paper for Bath is a very poor decision and will lead to the early demise of the Chronicle and the loss of any local news for Bath and the surrounding area.

"I can't read the 'on-line' version on the bus, in my teabreak at work, as a passenger in a car or in my bedroom, kitchen, lounge or garden (the PC is in my study)."

What people in Bath think of the Chronicle

Newspaper's final daily edition
21 Sep 07 |  Somerset

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