The switch to digital journalism is reviving the local press as news published across online platforms is attracting newer, younger and wider audiences.
Local World is a UK publishing chain comprising 107 daily titles – the company was established in 2012 and claims to be ‘changing the face of journalism’.
Its Maidstone news publication went digital seven months ago and has seen a 95 per cent increase in its audience for online content; in one day the site had 22,000 visitors.
For the Kent and Sussex Courier, audiences for print and online combined have reached 4.5 million.
Two years ago when the newspaper was a print only publication the circulation failed to reach even one million. It seems that online publishing is now supporting the circulation of printed newspapers.
Digital is also changing the way the journalism is practiced and how news is being gathered.
“The gap is tantalisingly close, and closing”
Stories are now coming increasingly from emails, Twitter and Facebook, and journalists are spending more time at the desk than in the community. Part of this change is due to the efficiency of online publishing, which allows journalists to cover stories around the clock.
Editor of the Kent and Sussex Courier, Roger Kasper, has been a journalist for 31 years; his career began long before the advent of online publishing. Since the move to digital the weekly local newspaper has become a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute venture.
“Back in the day, if we go to press at 12noon and a story breaks at 1pm, we would have to wait a whole week to publish. By then the story is not news. Our audience is now bigger than we have ever had – online circulation is rocketing while newspaper reach is decreasing,” he told Artefact.
“When I started in 1983 stories came in over the phone and in letters, I would look in newsagents windows, and that still happens. The difference now is that reporters have this stream of information at their fingertips.”
While digital has revitalised the local press, the way that journalists engage with communities have changed since the time spent investigating stories has dropped significantly.
Online publishing is affecting the quality of journalism as local reporters are being seen less as the local ‘watchdog’, disrupting networks of corruption in communities.
When asked his opinion on this issue Kasper agreed. “I wish we had the time to do it. When I sense there’s a story unfolding I cant always action it straightaway because of a lack of resources,” he lamented.
There is more emphasis on marketing and ‘brand awareness’ for local press publications and building strong online presence through the use of social media, and connecting directly with audiences with Twitter ‘follows’ and Facebook ‘likes’.
This year the Kent and Sussex Courier was up seven per cent on Facebook ‘likes’. It made £600,000 in online advertising revenue but lost nearly one million pounds in print advertising revenue.
“The gap is tantalisingly close, and closing,” said Kasper.
Simon Finlay, editor on the Dover Express, said the recession had effectively brought down print circulation, but thinks that digital journalism is strengthening democracy since more people are engaging with current affairs in their local communities.
When asked what new challenges there has been for investigative journalism since news moved online, Finlay said it has become more combative: “If a councillor does something wrong he gets a kicking online and in print, and it stays on the Internet forever.”
“As long as you have what the public want to read, there is no reason you why we cant continue to deliver. I don’t think digital necessarily has to wipe out print.”
Featured image by Matthew G via Flickr