Our consultants Ben Palmer and Stewart Argo, both former journalists, reflect on the latest grim news from the UK media sector. 

Since the 2008 financial crash, the regional news media sector has shrunk to a quarter of its size in revenue terms (or to look at it another way – adjusted for inflation – it’s an astonishing SEVEN times smaller). 

The figures are contained in new research from industry bible Press Gazette, which has revealed the colossal extent of regional news media revenue decline in the UK since 2007. 

As part of its research, Press Gazette looked at three of the main local news publishers: Reach, National World and Newsquest.  

For a detailed breakdown of the revenue and staff figures, and associated caveats, it’s best to read the actual article. What we have done here is sum up the key points and explained what we think this means for businesses and other organisations that look to work with the media (or are forced to in some cases!) 

In 2022, the three companies Press Gazette focused on had regional media revenue of around £590m and employed up to around 3,000 journalists. 

Compare that to 2007, when the number of journalists employed totalled around 9,000 in 2007 and their collective revenue was £2.4bn 

That leads to three questions:  

  • Why is this the case? 
  • Should anyone still care about regional media?  
  • And what does it mean practically when dealing with local press? 

The value of local media  

On the first question, Press Gazette observes that there is strong correlation between the decline of the UK regional press and the rise of US tech giants. 

It also notes that in 2007 news media advertising – both magazines and newspapers – was worth £7bn in the UK, or 39% of the £17bn total UK ad spend (about £11bn in today’s money). 

Compare that with 2022, when all national, regional and magazine titles combined made around £2bn in advertising (print and online). That’s from a total £35bn UK ad spend.  

They’ve gone from taking 39% to a 6% slice of the pie. 

By contrast, last year saw around £15bn of UK ad spend spent with Alphabet, which owns Google and YouTube, and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram. 

You might be wondering, what does this mean for you if you’re looking for coverage in your local paper (or website!)?  

If we go back to the second of our three earlier questions, the answer is: yes, regional media still matters a great deal. Even though the sector is clearly in decline in many ways, local outlets are still widely read. Whereas historically, readers may have nipped to the shop for their paper, these titles are still very popular on other mediums such as X and Facebook.  

And it’s not just about numbers. Regional media play a very important part in influencing the political or community agenda in many places. They can be effective campaigners on local issues. They can shine a light of matters of real public interest. They can give a voice to people who would otherwise be unheard. 

Local journalists facing time constraints 

So, what are the practical implications of all this? 

For local and regional journalists, covering the issues that matter most to their readers is the obvious priority. That means a day job consisting of scheduled events, maybe some court reporting, emergency services incidents, and human interest tales. 

But even the likes of council meetings, once a rich source of copy, do not receive the same attention and scrutiny that they should. And long-form, investigative journalism is now largely confined to the major broadsheets. 

The main reason for this is obvious: fewer reporters producing more content. 

Time is an increasingly precious commodity for reporters. In the world of churn and clicks, ensuring that they are making the most of their resources is vital. In short, don’t waste a journalist’s time with a story that isn’t relevant.  

As an editor recently said to us: I don’t want to know what’s important; I want to know what’s interesting. 

What is a journalist looking for? 

If you’re pitching a story to a journalist, think of how it would look on the front page of a local paper. Is that something that a friend or family member of yours would stop to read when passing the newsagent? If it is, then that’s a good first step.  

Make a story sing. Provide good quality images and copy that can quickly be lifted into a journalist’s own version of the story to save them time redrafting. Add some colour to quotes that can be used for headlines. Make their job and life easier.  

This all matters if you’re on the receiving end of a query too. Of course it’s important to ensure that your issues or crisis comms strategy is robust, but you also want to consider the needs of the press too.  

In such situations, speed is the name of the game and being prompt in communication can carry a lot of weight. The time-pressed journalist that you helped when they’re filing copy against a tight deadline will likely remember that the next time you’re pitching a decent story. 

If you’d like to know more about how the changing face of the media sector affects your business or organisation, get in contact with us for a chat. 

Read Press Gazette’s full analysis 

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