Why we shouldn’t write off newspapers

As a former journalist I couldn’t help but watch new BBC series, The Papers, with some fondness and more than a touch of nostalgia.

The two-part fly-on-the-wall documentary profiles leading Scottish publications The Herald and The National as they became seven-day operations, publishing The Herald on Sunday and The Sunday National for the first time in place of the now-defunct Sunday Herald.

The trials and tribulations of pulling together pages was played out against the demands of covering major news stories, including ex-PM Theresa May suffering the biggest defeat in history at Westminster over her Brexit plans.

For anyone who is interested in news and current affairs, it was a fascinating insight into how stories are developed and then presented.

Unfortunately, it also shone a spotlight on the ongoing decline of print and the diminishing resources available. Circulations across the industry have shrunk dramatically over the past decade as readers migrate from print to digital. According to research organisation Mintel, national newspapers experienced a 10% drop in circulation last year to just over 1.8bn. The picture isn’t much rosier for regional newspapers. Annual regional newspaper circulations are expected to fall by 9.6% this year, to around 1.15m.

On the flipside, online consumption is growing, and overall reach has never been higher. More than half of adults – 53% – access news via free websites and apps, while 42% say they read traditional print newspapers and 38% read national newspapers online.

The challenge for the industry is how to monetise online output in the face of the free content published by Google and Facebook and audience resistance to paywalls.

Encouragingly, there are signs that ‘fake news’ has helped to create a more favourable environment for authoritative news sources such as newspapers, TV and radio.

Certainly, it was clear from The Papers that journalists remain highly committed professionals who, despite ongoing budget cuts, care deeply about covering the stories that matter to their readers.

These are people who put their heart and soul into what they do, often at personal cost, by working long hours and enduring increasing workloads to mitigate against reduced staffing levels and to keep up with the new digital age. In the first episode of The Papers, journalists were shown breaking stories on social media and creating online content including podcasts, in addition to the day job of sourcing and reporting the news.

And what does all this have to do with brands and their marketing communications goals?

I may be a dinosaur in a minority of one, but I’d argue that the drive and commitment demonstrated by the team behind The Herald and The National together with the continued respect that the public has for quality journalism makes a strong case for businesses investing in media relations and engagement.

Yes, it is important to stay ahead of the market, consider the options and invest in the platforms that are right for your audience.

But brands looking to influence behaviours – whether that’s growing sales, recruiting top talent or enhancing reputation – shouldn’t write off ‘the papers’ just yet.

If you’d like to discuss how to combine PR and digital marketing for maximum impact, get in touch today.