Regional Media: Special report

Teenagers put the "sex" in "Wessex" in school trip shocker. Welsh women have the biggest bums in Britain. Swindon comes sixth in National Bingo survey. All in a day's newsgathering for the Western Daily Press.

Go anywhere in the UK and a flick through a regional paper is enough to give an insight into how the locals live. Indeed, it is the intimacy, charm and close-to-home feel of the regional press that are its most potent weapons in an unforgiving economic climate.

Yet there are signs of trouble for these faithful servants of their communities.

Circulations, particularly of the paid-for dailies, are generally on the slide (see feature, this page), reflecting the need to recruit new (and younger) readers. Consumer confidence and local retail spending are at a low ebb.

Still, there are impressive-sounding stats with which to bang the medium's drum. Most surprising is that more 15- to 24-year-olds read a regional newspaper than use the internet every week (TGI survey). And more than 11 million adults read a regional paper and don't bother with a national title.

Regional publishers are responding to the threat of decline by "layering" the information they generate into freesheets, ads-only titles, magazines and websites. Indeed, Tim Bowdler, the chief executive of Johnston Press, insists "our reach is, without doubt, higher now than it's ever been".

The best regional publishers are, like the advertising and media agencies outside the M25 (see page 29), tightly run ships with experience of innovating their way out of trouble. It was thought that the rise of local radio (see page 31), then TV, would run the sector into the ground. But look at the latest figures: according to the Advertising Association, the regional press has doggedly clung on to its share of adspend, while its major media rivals have fallen behind.