The face of local journalism has changed - but its heart and core values remain the same. Long gone are the days of hot metal typesetters and sub-editors in regional newspaper offices. The clatter of the typewriter has been replaced by the quiet tap of a laptop keyboard or a mobile phone as reporters embrace innovative digital platforms to reach their target readership.
Fast-paced technological and societal shifts over the past decade have made a huge impact on the regional press and how local news and feature writing is now received by readers. Online access takes precedence over the daily delivery through the letterbox.
The staggering rate of digital developments in the print media has killed off plenty of national and regional press titles - figures show that 265 local newspapers have closed in Britain since 2005.
Whereas circulation figures were always the benchmark for newspaper sales targets, the new measurement is ‘reach’ as content marketing shapes the way in which journalists deliver local news.
For the past four years, I’ve been honoured to join the judging panel of the UK’s Regional Press Awards to evaluate journalism entries in an impressive range of categories - from Digital Live News Reporter to Scoop of the Year.
The Regional Press Awards for 2020 recognise reporters, columnists, designers, photographers, scoops, campaigns, and digital initiatives. Find out more and meet all the winners at https://www.societyofeditors.org/events/national-press-awards-for-2020/gallery-of-winners/
Through my digital marketing work at Carswell Gould and our connections with the media, I've become aware of the growing pressure regional journalism has been under to evolve and compete with new media channels.
As I said at the outset, the face of local journalism has changed but, as has always been the case, the story and reaching the audience remains at the heart of everything.
I believe there’s still a strong demand and a place for local news. High-quality regional journalism can do amazing things and give communities a voice. Finding better ways to deliver and communicate this is at the heart of regional journalism’s transformation.
There have been concentrated efforts and big investments by media companies to digitally evolve. While that’s not always good news for the workforce, it seems that things are settling and different ways of working are becoming the norm.
New techniques, tools and talent are reversing the downward trend and creating substantial new audiences for media outlets. These techniques feel more reminiscent of marketing than journalism - you might say that ‘reach’ is replacing ‘circulation’.
My day job involves creating compelling campaigns that blend technology, design and storytelling. Content marketing/inbound is a big part of how we deliver our work at Carswell Gould. As I was assessing the Regional Press Awards entries for best use of digital and technology, it dawned on me that the same can be said of media outlets. Content marketing seems to be the new standard for regional journalism.
It was fascinating to see how technology has moved on in the relatively short time I’ve been involved in judging entries.
More and more regional media outlets have adopted utilised digital publishing solutions which allow them to better meet the needs of a modern media consumer. These publishing tools tie into websites and social channels, allowing journalists to push content across multiple owned digital platforms in super quick time.
The publishing sites also give journalists more creative scope - for example, using images, video content, animations and more to support their articles online, resulting in more interesting storytelling.
But it’s not just the technology and publishing platforms that have changed. The writing has changed too and this year's awards submissions were often presented in more accessible bitesize and clickable content formats.
All this suggests to me that a new generation of digital-native journalists has broken through and that it is these people that are driving forward regional journalism across the UK.
Where once a team of writers, editors, designers, and logistics specialists collaborated to make the news happen, one person plus software is expected to do it all.
Journalism isn’t the only industry to see digitisation dramatically reduce people power and human resource. Some of the work I’ve reviewed during this year's awards would not look out of place in my own industry as a content marketer.
Fundamentally however, the story should still be central to a local media title. Change clicks are one thing but editorial decision-making remains a key factor of value. A regional press future full of clickbait and random content is not sustainable, attractive or adding true value to the reader.
As I assessed the entries, my votes went towards those with the right balance of relevant news delivered using accessible and digestible routes across multiple channels.
By staying true to the core values of regional journalism in this way, local stories find wider audiences and can keep increasingly fractured local communities connected.
This could help protect and nurture the identity of the community, something which - in an increasingly globalised world - is of huge importance in this wannabe journalist’s eyes.
I want to wish all those shortlisted and the winners a huge congratulations for all your efforts keep up the great work and id love to know what you and your fellow reporters think of my observations.