Congratualtions to Norwich-based Archant newspapers. Their four daily papers in East Anglia are the only regionals in the country to increase sales in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures.
The figures for the six months from July to December last year (the percentage is the increase on the same period the previous year) are:
Norwich Evening News 18,931 7.5%
Eastern Daily Press 59,802 0.7%
Ipswich Evening Star 15,471 0.4%
East Anglian Daily Times 29,772 0.3%
Archant chief executive Adrian Jeakings said (East Anglian Daily Times):
We are delighted with our success in growing circulation in each of our daily titles and the majority of our weeklies in today’s ABC release. We have achieved this through investing in understanding what our readers want, producing great content that our readers want to read and by marketing, selling and distributing our papers well.
Hold the Front Page points out that while most titles sell 95 per cent or more of the copies, some, including the Archant titles fall below this level.
The fully paid levels for the East anglian titles are: Ipswich Star (80pc), Norwich Evening News (81.3pc), East Anglian Daily Times (89.2pc), Eastern Daily Press (89.5pc).
Exclduing bulk sales the Western Morning News in Plymouth, which sells 99.6 per cent of copies, was the best performing paper with sales down one per cent.
While national newspaper continue to seek to be first with the news and on their websites fright over seconds in their live blogs, regional newspapers are loosing their sense of the timeliness of news.
Proximity in time as well as location has traditionally been seen as giving events a higher news value. Maybe I am living in the past but I was shocked that two district council meetings in Suffolk which took place last Thursday were not reported in the East Anglian Daily time until today (Monday). The stories have not yet appeared on the website.
At the meetings Babergh decided to increase its council tax while Mid Suffolk froze its demand (see Suffolk Wordblog). Those seem to me to be stories of immediate interest to the readers.
But what concerns me more is the lack of explanation of the reasons for the different decisions. Local government finance is always difficult to understand but it has a real impact on people.
It is back in the 1970s that John Birt, then head of current affairs at London Weekend, and Peter Jay, a Times journalist at the time, coined the phrase “mission to explain”. An article in the Times began:
There is a bias in television journalism. Not against any particular party or point of view — it is a bias against understanding.
Appearing under John Birt’s name it was naturally about television but the point was not lost on print journalists.
This brings us to council tax setting this year. The Government has offered a one-off grant worth the equivalent of a 2.5 per cent rise, to councils that freeze or reduce the tax.
It seems like a no-brainer to accept. But that is not how all councils see it. Nor are the decision being taken entirely based on politics. Conservative controlled Chelmsford council in Essex has voted to reject the offer while Labour controlled Ipswich is set to accept it (Ipswich Spy).
The problem is that it is a one-off grant, which means that a 2.5 per cent rise next year would be standing still, just making up for not having the extra grant. To get a real increase of that size next year, a 5 per cent hike would be needed.
And the water is muddied further by a Government requirment for a local referendum which would be costly and difficult to organise if the rise is more than 3.5 per cent this year. (Decisions on the trigger for future years will be decided nearer the time.)
Yes, it is a bit difficult to follow and I hope I have got it right (corrections and clarifications welcomed in the comments below). And when it comes to police authorities the trigger level is 4 per cent which explains why the Suffolk Police Authority can increase its demand by 3.75 per cent.
Suffolk’s chief constable, Simon Ash, explained that “if council tax were frozen in 2012/13, it would result in the loss of at least £1.6 million in funding in subsequent years because the government grant would be a one-off payment”.
That, in essence, is the dilemma facing all councils. I would hope that there are journalists out there who will make it more lucid than I can, but there is no excuse for not attempting to explain.
Helen Boaden, BBC’s head of news, speaking at University Campus Suffolk last evening, asked the audience the predictable question about their main sources of news. Was it newspapers, television, radio or online?
It is a question I have asked new students many times, but in pondering my response I realised convergence has gone so far that there is no longer a clear-cut answer.
Often my television is delivered by iPlayer (it is just another channel on the TV) watched from the comfort of an armchair.
I buy a printed newspaper, but I also subscribe to it as an iPad app which is more convenient to read at the breakfast table.
The distinction between lean-forward and lean-back media is disappearing. Both iPlayer and iPad app are delivered by the internet but the distinction is much less clear than it used to be.
In the introduction to Helen Boaden’s talk, Professional Journalists Wanted, it was mentioned that she had been named as a likely contender for the job of BBC director general in the Daily Telegraph.
Back home, I checked online to see what they were saying. I also saw that the Guardian was leading on the story that the search was on for a successor for Mark Thompson who is expected to step down at the end of the this year or early next.
In this case my primary source of the news was a talk at UCS, backed up by the internet and expanded by reading a printed newspaper this morning.
Ms Boaden, who went to school in Ipswich and Colchester, was effectively launching a new Journalism MA which still has to gain formal approval. That should come in early March with the first students enrolled in September.
As a new course at a new centre of higher eduction, the UCS MA will establish a programme specifically designed for convergent media, without the traditional separate courses for newspaper, magazine, broadcast and online journalism which continue to afflict some of the long-established journalism departments.
Ms Boaden painted a picture of the requirement for multi-skilled journalists with flexible approaches to where and how they should work.
User generated content (BBC jargon for what some call citizen journalism) was of growing importance but it required skilled journalists to assess it before broadcast. She gave the example of mobile phone video submitted after wrecking of the Costa Concordia much of which was filmed on different ships in different places.
Just when you think there is a chance that the they might get the Eurozone crisis under control, the Guardian website reveals the delicacy of the situation with this home page item:
Financial strain of debt crisis laid bare as 500 banks borrow €489 from European Central Bank
As my wife said: “They only had to ask!”
Lord Hunt the new chairman of the Press Complaints Commission believes bloggers — “Guido Fawkes or whoever” — are a greater challenge than the tabloid press. This emerged in an interview he gave to Roy Greenslade, former tabloid editor and now a media commentator, at the weekend.
On Tuesday at the Leveson inquiry Rhodri Davies, counsel for News International, said regulation was a daunting question when so much information was available on the internet. “You have to draw a line somewhere between a blogger and a professional journalist,” he said.
Lord Leveson responded: “That’s a line we are going to have to draw anyway”, and referred to the Huffington Post and Guido Fawkes.
It really does look as if bloggers are going to be drawn into the regulatory net, whether a voluntary system, which I support, or a statutory system which I oppose with all my heart.
That line between bloggers and professional journalists (I would prefer to call journalism a trade rather than a profession) is almost impossible to draw. Blogging covers a wide spectrum that at one end you might as well try to regulate what someone on the corner stool of the bar might say.
At the other end the Huffington Post is really an online newspaper and there is no obvious problem in it adhering to the PCC code. Some bloggers, like Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes), will rightly always be on the edge, as Private Eye has been on the edge of print media.
The Ipswich Spy blog, one of the best in the East, has committed itself to voluntarily abiding by the PCC. This follows a post on Tuesday headed “Tories won’t advance unless they drop their poor leader.” which has now been removed following complaints that it was “poorly sourced and contained a number of potential inaccuracies”. It is being edited.
I admire Ipswich Spy for doing this. It says:
This site will, from now on, strive to follow in the footsteps of those journalists whose persistence uncovered what was corrupt and rotten in this state of ours, whilst providing thoughtful and informed insight into the Ipswich political scene. It may be that one or two members of Ipswich Spy may have to come out of the shadows to make this possible. So be it. We are aware that some people believe our anonymity damages our credibility, a subject we have returned to with regularity.
We are also aware that the changes we are instituting into the way Ipswich Spy is published may give us less flexibility in publishing posts which are interesting and provocative, which spark debate and which add to the colour of the media. We may be publishing fewer posts as it will take longer to confirm details. For that, we are sorry, but see no other way.
Ipswich Spy is a collective so is able to mediate its posts, albeit with the overhead which may reduce its output and slow its reaction to events.
Many blogs, like Wordblog, are just one person and we can only realistically ask for a second opinion when we have doubts about what we are writing.
Perhaps Ipswich Spy’s writers will have to come out of the shadows less than they fear. For most of its history The Times stuck rigidly to a policy of not naming writers, although the editor’s name was known.
The issue of speed and lack of mediation is one which is also affecting large news organisations as costs and the need for speed result in more material being published without editing.
I have followed the code myself and will continue to do so. But there are some areas I feel need revision and clarification before they are fully applied to blogging.
The BBC cuts, I fear, will be another blow to the health of news media in the regions. Local radio stations will be sharing programmes.
In East Anglia Radio Suffolk and Radio Norfolk will have a joint afternoon programme, according the the regional BBC TV news. The East Anglian Daily Times reports that admired presenters will loose their jobs.
It is not long ago that the BBC was putting more effort into local news with plans for hyper-local TV and developing its web sites.
Those developments were opposed by regional newspapers who felt the BBC was offering unfair competition. They have won that battle.
Since then Regional newspapers have continued to struggle. Earlier this year Archant decided that its two daily newspapers in Suffolk, the Ipswich Evening Star and the East Anglian Daily Times, which already shared reporting staff, should publish simultaneously.
At a time when local government is becoming more important, making cuts which have a direct effect on everyone in the county, we need stronger local media.
Steve Jobs was a man whose vision changed the way things are done. In the mid-80s I set up a desk-top publishing unit. It changed the way we worked, gave us greater freedom (as well as cutting costs) but also threw responsibility on to us. There were no longer typesetters to blame for mistakes.
The graphical user interface which he pioneered has become fundamental to the way we work and live. It affects the way we communicate and the way in which we consume and interact with news.
The New York Times obituary of Steve Jobs describes him as leading a “cultural transformation”.
Last night I was in bed browsing news on my iPad when an email from a cousin in Geneva pinged through telling me that the France 2 TV channel tribute to Jobs had mentioned Adam Osborne, another pioneer of desk-top computing who we both knew well (he died in 2003 in India where he had lived as a child).
Why, asked my cousin, who also knew Adam well when he was at school and then university in England, had his business failed?
The Osborne computer was a sensation when it was launched a few years before the first Mac. It was a “portable” — you would not want to carry it on Ryanair — but its real innovation
was combining word-processing and spreadsheet software in the package. It could be plugged in and used right away without even having to attach a keyboard. The only peripheral needed was a printer.
The company grew from two people to 3,000 in a year (Wikipedia). Its ability to fulfil the orders was under huge pressure with a massive backlog of orders and the company was not generating the revenue it needed. Then Adam made the mistake of taking about a new model. Osborne Computer Corporation went bust and became a footnote in the history of computing.
Adam and Steve were both members of the Homebrew Computer Club in the early days of Silocon Valley. I suspect Steve’s concentration of the supply line and obsessive secrecy about new products before their launch resulted from his knowledge of Adam’s failure.
My Osborne computer is now in the collection of the Centre for Computing History museum in Haverhill, Suffolk.
Both the Telegraph and the Guardian continued their live coverage of riots throughout the night demonstrating what 24/7 online news really means.
Last night I wen’t to bed after the end of BBC Newsnight thinking things would probably calm down in the following hours. They did not.
Before 7 this morning I was reading the extent of what has happened during the night. I turned on BBC News to watch the nightmare pictures of London burning.
The comparison of online 24-hour newspaper coverage and broadcast rolling news is fascinating. TV serves up endless re-runs of the same clips so that after a short time you seem to be getting nothing new.
But those images have a tremendous impact showing the extent of rioting but there is a more complete picture to be had from the online newspapers. There is more information and opinion to be had from the live blogging.
With two hugely important stories, the financial crisis and the riots, running at the same time, the 24/7 online newspapers are able to demonstrate their ability to inform as rapidly as broadcasters.
This is nothing to do with hacking but the attention focussed on the News of the World has produced some fascinating data on its circulation. The Guardian Data Blog on NotW readership and circulation demonstrates the value of visualising data.
One item is a chart of circulation over the past 50 years. It shows steady decline, except for a steep drop and recovery in the late 70s and 80s. There is no sign of any impact from the internet: the rate of decline has remained steady overall since the late 80s.
It would be valuable to see comparable charts for all British newspapers over the same period. Has it been too easy to talk about the decline of newspapers in the internet age?
Almost certainly, yes.