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The value of local news
WHEN it comes to delivering bad news, I always feel it is best to come straight to the point. The price of The Northern Echo is about to increase by 15p per day on weekdays and 10p on Saturdays.
I appreciate that this is a substantial rise which some readers may at first consider to be unacceptable but it is important that I, as the paper’s editor for nearly 15 years, explain why it is necessary.
The Northern Echo remains one of Britain’s best known regional newspapers and, thanks to the loyalty of its readers, its sales performance has been consistently above the national average.
We have our faults but we always try to play to our strengths as demonstrated by our most recent successful campaigns: keeping nearly 500 Department for Education jobs in Darlington, playing a leading role in promoting County Durham as the location for the Hitachi trainbuilding factory, fighting to stop the Church Commissioners secretly selling the historic Zurbaran paintings at Auckland Castle, and launching our Foundation For Jobs to help reduce youth unemployment.
But editors of newspapers working in today’s increasingly fragmented media industry face very tough choices. Advertising revenues, which have been the foundation of the newspaper business for generations, have declined dramatically and that trend is continuing in the midst of the global economic malaise.
The choice is therefore this: ask readers to pay more, ask advertisers to pay more, or cut costs. In the current economic climate, asking advertisers to pay more is not tenable and cutting costs, beyond cuts made in recent years, will undermine our editorial service across the North-East and North Yorkshire.
The decision has, therefore, been taken to increase the price of the paper to 65p Monday to Friday and 90p on a Saturday. In total, that is 85p more per week and it is important to keep it in perspective. A Mars Bar costs more than a newspaper and a whole week of The Northern Echo is no more expensive than a pint of beer. It comes down to what value is placed on a local newspaper which employs journalists to cover local news, which understands what’s important to local communities, and which fights local campaigns.
If the price rise is the bad news, the good news is that there will be significant investment in The Northern Echo to make it an even better newspaper, with more comprehensive coverage of news and sport.
The paper, which has served this region for approaching 150 years, will increase in size by an average of eight pages per day. There will, therefore, be more news from this part of the world, presented in a bigger paper.
One of the toughest challenges in editing a regional newspaper is working out how to satisfy the “local” needs of readers across such a wide geographical area. The Northern Echo is a complicated beast and, at the moment, we carve up our stories into four editions which are sold in different parts of the region – Teesside & North Yorkshire, Durham, South Durham and Darlington.
This means some stories only appear in one edition. However, I often receive complaints that readers who get one edition are also interested in news from other editions. Indeed, we have one village – Barton, near Scotch Corner – where readers demand three different editions.
Only last week, I had a letter from a reader in Redcar who wanted to get the South Durham edition because his roots were in Ferryhill.
We will resolve those age-old complaints by packing all our news into every edition.
Whichever edition you buy, you will not miss any of the content. It will all be in there but local stories will be given more prominence in each edition. In fact, the number of editions will be increased to five, with North Yorkshire and Teesside being given separate editions.
We will also increase our national news coverage from four to five pages per day. Most readers of The Northern Echo do not buy a national newspaper so they expect strong coverage of the important national news stories. That element of the special Northern Echo mix will be enhanced. We will also be able to give broader coverage of regional and national sports stories with two extra pages per day at the back of the paper.
Our Saturday paper has already grown substantially over the past year and the ever-popular Echo Memories local history pull-out, edited by Chris Lloyd, will now be expanded.
The aim is to make The Northern Echo the ideal one-stop newspaper for readers in the North-East and North Yorkshire, providing a unique blend of local, regional and national news and sport.
I sincerely regret that, from this Saturday, it will cost you more to continue to enjoy The Northern Echo – but I hope you share my view that it is a price worth paying.
IT was a pleasure last week to raise a bit more money for the Butterwick Children’s Hospice by being guest speaker at Cleveland Rotary’s Wives and Widows Day.
Last year, the Rotary club investigated the possibility of setting up a book stall at the Parkway centre in Coulby Newham. From that small acorn grew the oak tree of a fullyfledged charity shop.
Since opening on October 25 last year, the shop has raised £19,400 for Rotary charities and that should top £20,000 before the lease ends in a few days. With luck, that will be match-funded by Rotary International.
That’s what I call another very good turn from Rotary.
FINALLY, I know we all get things wrong from time to time – and The Northern Echo is no exception.
But I can’t help feeling someone’s made a grave mistake with the destination on the bus stop in Baydale Road, Darlington.
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