Media: Double Standards - Challenging times for the UK's local newspapers

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 28 November 2008 12:00AM

If it's not the credit crunch, it's the BBC. These are hard times for the editors of The Birmingham Post and the Southern Daily Echo.

MARC REEVES - EDITOR, THE BIRMINGHAM POST

- How would you describe your newspaper.

The Post is unashamedly aimed at the "wealth creators and decision-makers" of the West Midlands. It was a broadsheet until four weeks ago, when we changed the format to compact at the same time as launching an "m-site" - a web service for mobile phones - and giving our main website a complete makeover. Underpinning all this was an increased emphasis on business coverage as we aim to provide a wide range of industrial and professional sectors with a service they simply can't get anywhere else. With our print, online and mobile services, I think we can justifiably claim to be one of the few genuinely multimedia brands in the region.

- Have you got plans in place to take your title through the current downturn?

Our move into multimedia is absolutely designed to position us to weather the downturn. As advertisers rein in their marketing budgets, we're finding that more and more of them want to ensure their remaining spend works even harder. Coming to us, we can help them communicate across print display, classified, DM, e-newsletters, web and mobile in whatever permutation best meets their aims.

- The BBC has been forced to scrap its local online video plan, but how much of a threat is it?

The Post is part of Trinity Mirror Midlands, which has undergone massive structural changes this year. We've also moved into brand new premises in Fort Dunlop, at the very heart of which are a purpose-built TV studio and editing suites. However, all our programming ideas have to earn a crust and that comes from developing audiences that are attractive to advertisers. If the BBC starts using licence fee payers' money to jump ahead of us and steal audience, our efforts could simply be killed stone dead.

- How much has your title invested in online?

We have just adopted the latest generation of Trinity Mirror website structures. We have dedicated multimedia editors for each daily title and every one of our staff is receiving some of the most rigorous multimedia training ever delivered in the regions. Each of our frontline reporters is also equipped with the latest smartphone technology that enables them to capture still and video images and transmit them straight back to the newsroom.

- How do you attract and retain advertisers?

Our target audience is very attractive for advertisers. We serve high net worth individuals, the people who hold the purse strings in their businesses. We provide the kind of hyper-relevant, informed content that makes our main paper, supplements and web services vital media for the business community of the West Midlands.

- Are regional newspapers set to become obsolete?

Emphatically not. Newspapers will remain an important part of our portfolio. Across all our media, our audience is growing. What will change is the distribution of our audience across our different platforms.

- What's been your title's quirkiest story this year?

We reported that a factory in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was striking commemorative coins for Barack Obama's election campaign. The story went around the internet in minutes.

- What's the best thing about your job?

Working on my hometown newspaper at just the time it is undergoing the biggest changes in its 150-year history.

IAN MURRAY - EDITOR, SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO

- How would you describe your newspaper.

This year has seen the Southern Daily Echo mark its 120th anniversary. That's no small achievement in any industry, especially one that has witnessed such dramatic changes and threats to its very existence. Our footprint covers a large area of South West Hampshire, including the New Forest, the Test Valley, the ancient city of Winchester, the town of Eastleigh and the beautiful coastline areas around the Hamble. Our heartland remains the city of Southampton, still centred on its famous docks but with an ever-growing reputation for an industry based on innovation and knowledge (we have three universities).

- Have you got plans in place to take your title through the current downturn?

These are difficult times and pockets are hurting, even when the local paper costs less than a chocolate bar. That's why so much of our endeavours to beat the crunch are based on providing readers with a raft of opportunities to save money. We have introduced a daily Beat the Crunch section and make informed decisions on how best to spend dwindling financial resources. And there have been the necessary giveaways and promotions to ensure readers see the paper as a must-buy, value for money product in its own right.

- The BBC has been forced to scrap its local online video plan, but how much of a threat is it?

I'm one who's happy to march through the streets to defend the survival of the BBC, but this attack on our revenues at a time when its own financial future is feather-bedded borders on the obscene. Arguments that the regional press have not invested in online is simply not the case when soaring visitor numbers taking advantage of the Daily Echo's 24-hour breaking news coverage are testimony to huge investment.

- How much has your title invested in online?

From the arrival of national newspapers in its Southampton and Hampshire heartland at the beginning of the last century, through radio, TV, cable, the internet and today's array of mobile communication devices, this six-nights-a-week truly local paper has marched on to a become a truly multi-platform news outlet with a strong web presence (www.dailyecho.co.uk).

- How do you attract and retain advertisers?

As with many regional papers, the secret of our success is a large, loyal community of readers, who trust the news and advertising in the paper. Our advertisers know they can use this trusted relationship to communicate with readers. We are also keen to work with them to look for new, effective platforms.

- Are regional newspapers set to become obsolete?

One of the marvellous things about this job is that not even I can predict what tomorrow's headlines will be. But of one thing I can be certain, they won't tell of the demise of this paper.

- What's been your title's quirkiest story this year?

The strange tale of Stumpy, the three (and-a-half)-legged duck.

- What's the best thing about your job?

Meeting normal, everyday people with extraordinary stories to tell.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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