Flicking through this morning’s edition of a well-known regional newspaper, it dawned on me that one important element was missing. Adverts.
Aside from a full page from the Government telling us to stay home and stay safe (yes, I think we’ve got that now, thanks) there was precious little in the way of paid advertising. With so many businesses forced to temporarily close, it’s hardly surprising – clothes shops, pubs, restaurants, hotels and travel companies would be among the paper’s regular clients.
Even before coronavirus reared its ugly head, the internet was becoming the medium of choice for many seeking the latest headlines. Print circulation was falling and ad revenues were in decline.
As a result of Covid-19, many regionals have placed staff on furlough and imposed wage cuts to prepare for a further shrinking of their incomes. Coronavirus could be the final element to create a perfect storm that sees some titles disappear altogether.
It’s a desperately worrying state of affairs. Local papers have been a voice for our towns for centuries. They tell our stories, they campaign against our injustices, they celebrate our good guys and name and shame the villains.
Yes, we might have a giggle at some of the content occasionally – who doesn’t love a story about someone who has collected thousands of crisp packets, or the heroic rescue of a donkey with its hoof stuck in a kettle?
But they’re there for us when we need them. When vandals strike, when developers are after our green fields, when our kids’ dance school does something amazing, they’re our first port of call.
And there’s something special and enduring about newsprint that a website just can’t replicate. I still keep clippings from years ago when my son’s Easter bonnet photo was in the local paper; somewhere my mum has a yellowing copy of a report on a local gymkhana where I posed on an unbelievably scruffy pony with my first ever rosette.
Councils have been urged to buy copies of their local papers for those in self-isolation to read. As a boost to circulation goes, it’s a great idea and one that could be extended after lockdown has lifted to provide a boost for the elderly, vulnerable and those on low incomes. Lord knows the papers themselves are trying, printing puzzles and TV guides alongside editorial to entertain their readers in this time of unprecedented mass boredom.
But it needs to go one step further. If there’s one sector that’s doing well from our current predicament it’s the supermarkets.
Rather than advertising their eye-rollingly trite food love stories on prime-time TV, why don’t they put their money back into their local communities by advertising in the local paper? People are literally queueing up to spend their money in store, it’s about time they started putting something back that will help safeguard the future of local media.
The weekly paper is always there when staff have done a bake sale or dressed up for Children In Need – it’s time for the supermarkets to do their bit to help their local newspapers stay afloat.