So just where IS newspapers’ competition?

Many dismayed newspaper journalists continue to believe publishers’ digital strategies are bringing their industry to its knees.

They struggle to make sense of web-first policies that appear to undermine their newspapers by distributing free news online in return for a fraction of the advertising and circulation revenue attached to same content in print.

And they despair when they are told that because their competitors publish online first they must too.

After all, rivals to the daily or weekly newspaper in most of the country’s small to medium-sized towns and cities sometimes seem non-existent.

Local BBC radio stations, for instance, rarely break exclusive stories and their output is limited to about a dozen stories a day.

There may be the odd blogger and listings site around, but papers are still the only serious game in town when it comes to news. At least that is how it seems to some.

But who frequently breaks many of the big stories first: the fires, crimes, environmental disasters and major local council decisions, for instance?

Not newspapers, but the fire brigade, the police, the Environment Agency and council press offices.

Gone is the comfortable old arrangement where press releases were issued but their contents only made known to the public when newspapers had rewritten and developed them into their own news stories.

Some newsdesks may still think these releases are read only by themselves and their colleagues in the professional media.

But the organisations that used to rely on us to tell their news are now publishers in their own right. They are growing audiences for their own websites, and marketing their content via social media with a deftness that leaves the efforts of some newspapers looking clumsy.

They are cutting out the middleman (us) and building a direct, and to them extremely valuable, relationship with the people who used to be our readers.

Their reporting lacks our polish and, more worryingly, any scrutiny of the source.

But crucially it contains the key information and is delivered first. It is, as disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen would say, “good enough”.

The organisations that generate news and break it themselves do not look like us. They do not act like us. They have no paywalls. They do not have advertisements (yet).

But make no mistake, they are our real competition and if we do not tackle them head on we will surely founder.


About John Wilson

Editor of Hereford Times, Ludlow Advertiser, Stroud News and Journal, Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard and Gloucestershire Gazette series. Journalist for more than 30 years.
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