Tug of war proves how valuable regional news remains

7th December 2023

The fall-out from the row between five of England’s biggest regional newsgroups and the BBC over the latter’s local news strategy shows just how febrile the UK news media are at the moment – and is a reminder to Comms professionals of just how important it is to stay on top of a rapidly changing sector.

The leaders of the main regional newsgroups in England – Reach, Newsquest, National World, Iliffe Media and Midlands News Association – penned a joint article in their own titles and the Press Gazette, calling on the BBC to ditch its local news strategy, which will see Auntie create 130 jobs in digital news at the same time as cutting 179 in regional TV and radio. In it, they branded the BBC as the “neighbour from hell,” calling it a “state-funded juggernaut on course to suffocate independent journalism”.

The BBC hit back, saying that the article is “misplaced and misleading” and comes at a time when regional newsgroups themselves are making “drastic cuts to frontline journalism”. Indeed, it followed just a month after Reach announced a further wave of 450 job losses across its group as part of an ongoing cost-reduction programme.

But to read the argument on its own could give the impression of a dying sector desperately appealing for mercy – which is far from the case.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report, local or regional newspapers are among the most trusted form of news out there, ahead of most major national titles.

And it’s not just traditional news brands – the type with “Est.” and some date from the 19th Century on their mastheads – that make up the sector either.

Innovative new outlets like The Mill in Manchester, and its sister titles in Sheffield, Liverpool and Birmingham, are thriving while, just this week, online magazine The Lead announced that it would be launching 10 new weekly newsletters in towns and cities across northern England following new investment.

Not only do they demonstrate the demand for trusted, local and regional news. They show how essential the regional media continue to be for any brand looking to engage with audiences across the UK.

But the future looks far from clear.

The government had been expected to announce a formal review of BBC funding this autumn ahead of the BBC’s charter coming up for renewal in just four years’ time.

The world has moved on apace since the BBC’s charter was last renewed in 2017, never mind since it was first created nearly 100 years ago. A full and detailed debate about what it should deliver and how it should be funded over the next 100 years is definitely needed.

Clearly, it will be a complex debate when it is had, with compelling arguments on all sides. In our view, society, consumers and brands are all better off with strong and thriving regional news output and, preferably, one that features all the key players mentioned above and more. It is in nobody’s interest to see a battle to the death.

In the meantime, regional media remains highly relevant and trusted so brands will continue to need expert counsel when navigating the fast-changing, often sensitive world of regional news media. And those media – on all sides – need our continued support.

By Chris Marritt, Specialist Director (Crisis and Issues) at Citypress


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