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Regional Editor: Google’s Not The Problem, Our Readers Are Dying

How long have regional newspapers got left before they collapse? Why not ask a regional editor: Peter Barron, editor of Newsquest’s Darlington-based regional daily the Northern Echo, sat alongside me at a panel discussion for journalism students at City of London University on Tuesday and said: “We are obviously facing a digital future — but — I still think newspapers have a future for at least 10, 15 years.”

Barron wasn’t predicting the death of regional print — he’s more highlighting the uncertainty of future business models. He said the paper receives 73 percent of its revenue from advertising, and only six percent of that comes from online. “But we shouldn’t dismiss online advertising revenue – it’s only six percent but it is starting to be meaningful. By using banner advertising we are starting to make decent money and that is going to continue to grow.”

When Barron joined the Echo in 1984, it was selling more than 90,000 copies a day; today it’s more like 50,000. “The challenge now is how we move the Northern Echo brand into new areas,” he said.

Judging by Barron’s assessment, the real threat to regionals isn’t Google (NSDQ: GOOG) but age: “It is a generational shift — younger people are not reading newspapers. Everyday we see the births, deaths and marriages page and every one of those deaths is a reader.” The audience is dying off but Barron says he gave up a long time ago trying to get young people in the North East to become readers.

One Response to “Regional Editor: Google’s Not The Problem, Our Readers Are Dying”

  1. Ben Fenton

    Interesting thoughts from a man who should know. But he should also know that young people have never read newspapers, especially not regionals. Since the advent first of radio and later television, people have always evolved into newspaper readership as they grew older.
    I have always believed, and bored people rigid on the subject when I worked at the Telegraph, that anyone working for a serious newspaper and trying to attract young readers was wasting their time because they will never share the viewpoints of more than one or perhaps two age cohorts.
    The key question is surely whether people will continue to evolve or not. I suspect this is not an easy one to call. My 15-year-old son reads a paper every day – Metro – on the train, and is at least familiar with the geography of newspapers. It would not be wholly surprising if this habit sticks with him and when he is more affluent he makes more informed choices to take up a differentiated and more challenging product. And anyone who works for a newspaper should know that there are many more reasons for buying a paper than the news, or the information. The key to maintaining happiness among the readership at the Telegraph, for instance, was not mucking around with the crossword.
    To adapt Churchill, I a person does not get their news from Facebook when they are 20 they have no soul; if they do not get their news from a more reliable source by the age of 40, they will have no nous.