Dissertation Proposal

 

Proposed Title

Local and regional print newspaper sales are declining as more people are accessing their news online. Can these legacy products survive in an ever-changing marketplace?

Objectives

In this dissertation, I will be looking at where these newspapers have come from, where they are now, and their position will be going forward. I will look at the impact of a variety of consumer choice, in terms of wider accessibility of news from a variety of sources. These outlets will include, but not be limited to, television, radio, social media, hyperlocal and solely online products.

Background

Local and regional newspapers are in a state of flux, with titles going weekly, merging or closing, and with a decline in number of physical copies sold. In a world where news is at the touch of a button for the tech savvy population, this leaves printed newspapers battling for an ever shrinking audience. Major media groups own hundreds of local and regional newspapers and are investigating ways to serve the audience, but ultimately if a product is loss-making, its longevity becomes compromised.

Details of the research

My research will be conducted in a variety of ways, including face to face interviews, contact via email and telephone, reading academic journals and books, and finding any published data, relevant to the field.

My preferred way of primary research is to conduct interviews with the source, which, if the subject allows, will be recorded either by audio or video, so that I have material that I can refer back to.

In speaking to my primary sources, I am aiming to document opinions as to what can be achieved to continue to serve the readership in the future.

Secondary sources will be used to assert any argument and/or make a balanced case for a future proposal for the local and regional newspaper industry.

Raw data will be collected and analysed to demonstrate any decline in sales within the timeframe, and the increase in availability of news sources.

Potential outcomes

In my opinion there are several potential outcomes to this research. It could be argued that the decline is one that cannot be stopped and eventually there will be no mainstream regional and local newspapers in print, but it can be demonstrated that new print newspapers have appeared recently.

By interviewing a range of academic sources, journalists, and publishers, and a breadth of research, in the United Kingdom and around the world, will allow me to compare the situation across a variety of countries, looking at best practice to take the industry forward.

 

Timeline

The research that is to be conducted, will take place over a period of several months and will be strictly controlled by the use of proven project management methods.

I am currently developing Gantt charts to tightly manage the finite amount of time that I have available for the myriad of research avenues.

In addition to this, I will use mind mapping tools, Gerard Egan’s Skilled Helper model and keep a file of all notes, communications and ideas, both on and off line.

I will be adhering to all academic deadlines set, with a buffer to allow for unforeseen circumstances.

Research subjects

I have already identified a number of academic sources, industry experts, published works and books to research over the summer in preparation for my final dissertation.

This list is not exhaustive and I am aware that as I conduct my research, different avenues of study will be presented.

Primary sources

Academic sources

  • Clare Cook – Senior Lecturer in Print and Online Journalism – UCLAN
  • Marie Kinsey – Professor of Journalism Education – Sheffield University
  • Paul Bradshaw – Reader in Online Journalism – Birmingham City University

Newspaper sources

  • Alison Gow – Head of Digital Innovation, Trinity Mirror
  • Alan Rusbridger – Head of The Scott Trust, owners of Guardian Media Group
  • Roy Greenslade – Guardian Journalist

Hyperlocal sources

  • Greg Hadfield – Brighton Hyperlocal developer
  • NESTA
  • Talk About Local

Media commentators

  • Steve Hewlett – BBC Radio 4
  • Raymond Snoddy – BBC /Sky News

Union representatives

  • Janet Shields – General Secretary – British Association of Journalists
  • Michelle Stanistreet – General Secretary – National Union of Journalists

Government

  • John Whittingdale MP – Minister for Culture, Media and Sport
  • Jesse Norman MP – Chair of for Culture, Media and Sport select committee
  • Jason McCartney MP – Member of for Culture, Media and Sport select committee

Reading list

Over the last few weeks, I have looked at research papers and published books that could be relevant to my research.  By starting this now, I feel that I have the maximum possible time over the summer to conduct a thorough investigation of the subject, which will allow me to start writing within the agreed timescale.

My reading list is not exhaustive, and will organically grow as the research continues.

  • The Future of Journalism – Bob Franklin
  • Beyond News:- The Future of Journalism – Mitchell Stephens
  • Future of Journalism in Advanced Democracies – Geoff Ward
  • News:- Evolution or Revolution – Andrea Miller
  • Value Creation and the future of News Organisations – Robert G Picard
  • The British Newspaper Industry – John Hill

CATS Reflection – Ad-Blocking in Journalism

Whenever I visit a news website, there is usually a series of adverts that, in my opinion, distract from the news content.

I understand the reasons for adverts on websites, in terms of funding the content produced.  By using the adverts, the news outlet can gain an income stream to continue their work.  It is in the same way that adverts within printed newspapers help to pay for the costs of running a media product.

Internet users expect to receive content from websites for free, and are annoyed by adverts, and where content is behind a paywall, will search elsewhere for content that they can get for free.

The local newspaper in Hull, the Hull Daily Mail, use adverts on the site, using headers, side bars, and pop up advert.  They also use sponsored content, where an article is shown within the list of news items in a news style, but it’s message is promoting a company or an agenda, for which money has been exchanged.

Sponsored Content - Hull Daily Mail

Sponsored Content – Hull Daily Mail

As frustrating as I find these adverts, I know that they have to be there.  However, there are tools that block these adverts on screens, known as Ad-Blockers.  These are available as plug-ins in browsers such as Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome, and are offered by mobile phone companies as standard, where Three have automatically blocked ads to save their customers from incurring data charges on their contracts, as reported in The Guardian.

For news outlets online, the ads are an important funding stream, and ultimately, news organisations have to make money in the same way as any other business.  If people are blocking ads, then the companies will not get their income from the advertisers, the advertisers will go elsewhere to spend their budgets.  The newspapers will then struggle to make enough money to pay their journalists, and ultimately the output will suffer.

Newspapers have experimented with Paywalls, the most notable being The Sun in 2013, but News UK decided to remove the paywall in 2015 because they were not getting the traffic required and other news outlets were seeing increasing numbers of visitors to their sites.

Two news outlets I use still have a paywall for their content, The Times and Autosport. Although I can get some content, once the free limit has been used, I tend to avoid them.

In my opinion, adverts and paywalls on websites are here for the foreseeable future, but news organisations need to try and find better ways to generate income without alienating the internet users who expect everything for free.

The Socio-Economic effects of fewer journalists

With a reduction of 6000 journalists in the industry over the last 2 years, what are the socio-economic ramifications of this decline?

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/6000-drop-number-uk-journalists-over-two-years-18000-more-prs-labour-force-survey-shows

Alongside this decrease in journalism staff levels, the numbers of people employed within Public Relations has increased by 18000, so the question is are journalists now moving to spin the information rather than report it?

During the last 5 years, a number of local newspapers have moved from a daily offer to a weekly edition, therefore needing to employ fewer staff, and staff are now required to do more with a resource pool that is constantly shrinking.

In her paper, Jennifer Alejandro is quoted as saying that “The digital journalist, a one-man band who carries a video camera that also allows for still photos, a voice recorder for audio clips, notebook for taking notes and sometimes even portable lights just in case the setting is a bit too dark for the cameras.”

https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Journalism%20in%20the%20Age%20of%20Social%20Media.pdf

During the new age of journalism, the Scunthorpe Telegraph is one of the newspapers that has moved to a weekly edition rather than a daily one, and as a consequence, has lost significant numbers of sales over a five year period.

Sales figures as published by ABC, show that the Scunthorpe Telegraph has a readership of around 15,500 copies sold per day when it was a Monday – Saturday newspaper. This became a figure of 18,000 in the first set of results after it had moved to weekly.

The latest figures, published in January 2016, show an average number of copies sold per week during the previous 49 weeks to be 16,117 copies.

http://www.abc.org.uk/Certificates/47588507.pdf

In that time, the newspaper has shrunk from it’s initial promise of 120 pages, to around 80 pages, and news that occurs on a Wednesday, the day prior to it going on sale, now doesn’t get covered until the following Thursday.

With the recent sale of the Local World group, who publish the Scunthorpe Telegraph, to Trinity Mirror, what does this mean for the readers of the print edition, and the printed version?

http://www.trinitymirror.com/pressrelease/acquisition-of-local-world/2230

Certainly in terms of the largest local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail (HDM), the numbers buying the printed copy per day is declining, with a drop in sales of 9.6% for the print edition, with less than 30,000 copies sold per day.  Does that mean that more people are turning to the online offer from the HDM.

http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/regional-press-abcs-dailies-liverpool-echos-positive-relaunch-has-negative-impact-sales

According to the ABC, an average of 91942 unique visits were recorded to the HDM websites over a 6 months period between July and December 2015, with that figure peaking in November 2015 with 109,809 unique browser visits.  http://www.abc.org.uk/Certificates/47524222.pdf

The HDM pride themselves in the job that they do, but with fewer journalists, who are having to juggle many roles within their daily routine, how close to the bone can the new owners, Trinity Mirror, take it.

In their job advertisements, the HDM prides itself in it’s role within the community.  They states that: “the core newspaper coverage area is within Hull & the East Riding of Yorkshire including the rural towns of Beverley, Bridlington and Goole. We have wider geographical coverage across the rest of the UK via hulldailymail.co.uk.”

http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/jobsboard/company/457/

The East Riding of Yorkshire, the county of which the city of Hull sits within, is not only a large geographical area, but has a very small percentage of motorways within the road network, meaning that the fewer journalists there are, will take longer to get one from one area to another.  A journalist may be expected to cover a large patch of a newspaper area, for example, one story may be in North Ferriby, whereas the next may be located at Spurn Point.

The Hull Daily Mail is not alone in this having being taken over by Trinity Mirror.  Other local newspapers have been taken over by large media organisations, with Johnston Press having swallowed up many local newspapers within the county.  The Pocklington Post, Beverley Guardian and Epworth Bells being 3 newspaper titles locally now owned by the larger group.

 

Colour Writing – Reflection

In the session, we discussed colour writing, and the major differences between colour writing and news pieces.

When writing with colour, the wording is more descriptive and paints a picture of a person or scene.  An example of this could be in an interview with a celebrity, the article could discuss what they are wearing, where the interview is taking place, or what you can smell in and around the situation.

Colour writing is more prevalent in newspaper features and magazines, where the journalist has more available column inches, rather than having to tell a story in a clear and concise manner, with a smaller number of words.

I found the session fascinating, by being able to use the full range of the English language.  In colour writing, I am able to paint a picture in full Technicolor, rather than having to be straight and to the point in a news article.  The examples that the group created in the session, I felt that I could imagine being there, with the descriptions woven into the story.

Both types of journalism have their place in the media, and I will enjoy creating further pieces of colour writing as I move towards the end of the course.

Comparison of one high profile news story – 22nd October 2014

I am comparing the same news event from different news streams from around the 22nd October 2014.

The news item is regarding the announcement that Doctors will be offered an extra payment of £55 for an early diagnosis of dementia in patients that they have within their surgeries.

The Daily Mirror featured the article on the front page, but only as a small side piece to their main article regarding a men who faked a coma to avoid a court case. Their wording of the payment as a “bribe” could be seen as an inflammatory comment to some of their readers, but it grabs the attention, and as the front page article is a short one, this is designed to get the reader to go within the newspaper to Page 5. Once the reader has being lured in, the article continues on a side bar, and again plays second fiddle to the same story as on the front page.

The Times, as with the Daily Mirror features the article on the front page, but in more detail, with the piece continuing onto Page 2. There is more detail in the piece, with careful use of statistics. There is also a link to the current Government targets, and does seem to be a more considered piece, using more expert opinion, so as to not scare their demographic.

On Twitter, the user comments are a lot more scathing of the scheme, with at least one contributor saying that it is a money making scheme for the GP’s and their surgeries.

Sky News and BBC News covered the issue in a very similar way. They both reported the facts, in a similar way to The Times coverage. Sky News Online predominantly used quotes from health professionals, with a little analysis, whereas the balance on BBC News Online was the reverse.

One consistent that was picked up by all outlets I researched was the phrase “ethical travesty” which was spoken by Dr Iona Heath, the ex-president of the Royal College of GP’s.

All major outlets reported the facts, which from a journalistic point of view is exactly what I expected, but the red tops used stronger language to get their point across.