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.