The ever-changing media and PR landscape

5 minute read

In their 1960s heyday a big city evening newspaper outside of London could sell upwards of 300-400,000 copies a day. Indeed, the Manchester Evening News peaked at 480,000 copies a night following its merger with the Manchester Chronicle.

The MEN – once the UK’s largest provincial newspaper – averaged 20,300 copies per issue between January and June of 2022, according to the latest data available from the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC). That’s not strictly a fair comparison, as back in the 60s, the MEN produced several editions a day covering a period spanning (roughly) lunchtime to early evening. These days it is just the one issue printed the night before it hits the newsstands.

But this is not a MEN-bashing exercise. Replace the scenario outlined above with that of any regional daily in the UK, and you’ll discover a similar story. It’s the same with weekly newspapers too – while some of today’s weeklies were once dailies that their publishers deemed too expensive to produce on a daily basis given their dwindling circulations, so changed the frequency to a more cost-effective weekly option.

However, as a writer for an Oldham-based business, I’ve chosen the MEN because it is the only newspaper on our doorstep that captures the full extent of how the media landscape has changed – and continues to change.

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So, what’s happened with regional and local newspapers?

The simple answer to that question is times have changed. The relationship between information providers and consumers is now closer, more connected and more immediate, which has shifted business models, while evolving technology has had an impact on the investment decisions of media organisations. The pace of change has been noticeably rapid.

Allow me to share an anecdote to illustrate how times have changed.

As a football-mad youngster back in the 1960s, if you missed the Saturday football results on radio or TV, your next best bet was the evening sports paper. It had all the results on the front page, with the exception of those games that finished too late to be included.

Fast forward 30-plus years to the 1994 second division play-off final when Burnley faced Stockport County at Wembley. The game coincided with me flying off on holiday to Spain while the match played out. On landing, I was desperate to know the result, after all the winner was promoted to Division 1. But it was a devil of a job to discover and took me a good couple of hours until we arrived at the hotel. Thirty years later and very little had changed.

If that was to happen today, I’d know the result the minute I switched on my smartphone in the airport. Not just the result but everything else I might want to know about the game in minute detail. What we have today is information saturation. Whatever you want to know, wherever you want to know it, it is available at your fingertips (within reason, of course).

And that’s what has changed. The days of waiting for a newspaper to disseminate the news or making an appointment to view the teatime TV news, or listening to it on the radio, have long gone; to be replaced with instant information 24/7, 365 days a year.

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1994 – not just the year Burnley got promoted!

It’s no secret the catalyst of this change is the worldwide web. Although 1983 is said to be the internet’s official birthday, 1994 has been hailed as the year the internet we all know, and love, was really born with Amazon and Yahoo gathering momentum. By mid-1994 there were 2,738 websites worldwide, according to Gray’s statistics on Wikipedia: increasing to more than 10,000 by the end of the year.

TV broadcasters in the UK had embarked on 24-hour programming six years earlier, although it wasn’t until 1997 that the BBC launched its 24-hour news channel – the first competitor for Sky News that had been running since 1989.

Today global internet users total 4.95 billion, with internet penetration standing at 62.5% of the world’s total population. The number of smartphone users in the world today is 6.648 billion, which translates to 83.32% of the world’s population owning a smartphone. In total, the number of people that own a smart and feature phone is 7.26 billion, making up 91.00% of the world’s population.*

The rise and rise of the internet saw a seismic shift of advertising – display, classified, recruitment and property – away from traditional print products to online platforms, robbing them of the ad revenues that were their lifeblood. Perhaps the best example of this shift is Exchange and Mart, once a weighty, weekly tome of display and classified advertising that ceased publishing as a print product in 2009 but remains online.

Since the web established itself in the lives of almost everyone on the planet, with the smartphone as a willing and able accomplice, the media landscape is unlikely to stand still.

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Why is a ‘press release’ still important?

One of the favourite aspects of my job is telling a story. And when I’ve got a good one to share on behalf of a client, I am keen to send it to the most appropriate media outlets – and that includes regional and local media. Having digested what I said earlier, I wouldn’t blame you for asking why?

Just like everyone else in the world, news publishers nationally, provincially and locally are not blind to the benefits of having a digital presence in the worldwide web of information saturation.

But this is where the legacy of a newspaper’s past becomes its unique selling point. Newspaper brands are heritage brands. So, when you visit the MEN online – or substitute any news title you like – you are engaging with an organisation that has won the trust of its readers over many, many decades. And as anyone who knows anything about brands will tell you – that is priceless.

In effect, news organisations are doing what they’ve always done, they’re just doing it via different channels and using different tools and techniques. Readers’ letters were once seen as a gauge for engagement with any given title. Now, it’s comments. A great photo was, and still is, seen a great commodity for a newspaper, and its associated website. But now that can be embellished with video. Heritage doesn’t mean standing still.

It might be just as easy to know what’s going on in the Ukraine as it is to get news about your locality, but people love to know what’s going on on their doorstep and that has spawned another product of the changing media landscape – the hyperlocal newspaper and/or website. These are becoming more and more common and quite often can be found where a traditional local paper published by one of the big media groups has been scaled back or even closed down.

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And finally…

Ofcom’s 2021/22 research into news consumption across television, radio, print, social media, podcasts, other websites/apps and magazines, known as the News Report, has just been published.

It examines the consumption of content, and attitudes towards that content, across different platforms. The aim of this report is to inform understanding of news consumption across all ages in the UK.

Here are some of its headline findings – some not so surprising:

  • Different age groups consume news very differently; younger age groups are much more likely to use the internet and social media for news, whereas their older counterparts favour print, radio and TV.
  • The reach of print/online newspapers has seen a decrease from 2020 (47%) to 2022 (38%). The decrease is driven by decreases in print (online newspaper reach remains steady) which have likely been exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Attitudes towards news generally remain consistent with 2020 (across measures such as quality, accuracy, trustworthiness and impartiality) for TV, radio, social media, newspapers and online, with TV performing strongest, and social media performing least well.
  • TikTok’s reach for news has increased from 2020 (1%) to 2022 (7%). Half of its user base (for news) are aged 16-24.
  • Five of the top six TV channels (including BBC One which remains the top news source across platforms) saw decreased reach from 2021 among online adults.
  • Social media is overtaking traditional channels for news among teens. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are now their top three most used sources for news. Meanwhile, many sources have seen decreases since 2021, with reach of BBC One/Two decreasing to 24% in 2022 (down from 35% in 2021).

As a final footnote of my own, the sports newspapers I speak of above is another thing of the past. The last remaining paper in the UK – The Pink, published by Portsmouth News – ceased publication in 2017, leaving just the Portsmouth Sports Mail as a weekend sports paper, which closed in July 2022.


BIO: Our PR and copywriter, Nigel is somewhat of a media veteran. He has edited several weekly newspapers across Greater Manchester, going on to become editor-in-chief of what was then Guardian Media Group’s weekly newspapers in Tameside and south Manchester. He later became the editor of a daily newspaper in Belfast before returning home to lead the news team at Channel M, the now defunct TV station run by the Manchester Evening News, for five years.

More recently Nigel has worked in internal communications at the John Lewis Partnership, editing the retailer’s staff and business magazines and websites at its stores in Cheadle and Trafford before creating change and training communications for a nationwide roll out of a new customer ordering system.

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By Nigel, PR & Copywriter

Front view of PR Team member Nigel Wareing, smiling whilst using a computer

Nigel has been a journalist since the days of typewriters (not even electric typewriters)! He has edited several weekly newspapers across Greater Manchester, been the editor-in-chief of several more and edited a daily newspaper in Northern Ireland. He came home to work on the former Greater Manchester regional TV station Channel M. Having dropped the […]

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