A Big Blow to Local Democracy

The sad news that the Chronicle and Echo is closing as a daily newspaper will mean a big blow to local democracy. The number of times a local councillor, or council official, or even a local business, has had to come forward to explain or apologise after something has been raised in the Chronicle, is beyond counting.

The Chronicle has always been a good platform for local views on a wide variety of things, and has always printed the opinions of a wide range of local people. Those on the fiddle in local authorities will be rubbing their hands; they will be able to fiddle more openly than ever before.

So it will be sad to see it go. Many of my customers are stunned, and keep asking if I can't do something about it. I do not have that sort of money, although I must admit the idea sounds appealing. Owning a local paper, putting across your views, giving excellent value for money in news and investigative articles; I'd be good at all that. I'd call in a few of the staff of Private Eye to give me a hand...

Reading between the lines, as always, it is obvious the Chronicle's circulation has been going down over the last few years, and there is only so much big business will stand these days before it calls a halt. Several other local papers owned by Johnston Press are going the same route. When things get tight people buy local daily newspapers at first less often, then perhaps only weekly, usually at the weekend to see what's on locally. The circulation of the Chron has fallen from around 40,000 copies a day, to probably only around 7,000 or 8,000 a weekday, with a rise to a few thousand more at weekends.

Of course, they are putting a brave face on it, saying it's going to be a weekly wonder instead, packed with the sort of stuff it's packed with now, at a £1 a toss. Personally, at that price I don't think it will be a success. I hope I am wrong, but let's take a quick look at it. First, of all days it's coming out on a Wednesday. Bringing a paper out mid-week is a bit curious, don't you think? The most Chrons at the moment are bought on Fridays, for the weekend, so that's the day I'd choose for a weekly paper. Especially as it's going to have over 200 pages. You need time to settle back with that lot; a hour or two of leisure and a nice pot of tea. So in the middle of a busy week it will scarcely be skimmed over, and then cast aside as poor value for money. No doubt most of it will be adverts, and you can get all of those in the free newspapers, no need to pay for them.

Secondly I hope the quality of the journalism is going to get a great deal better too, but I have my doubts. Much of the Chron's articles seem to have lost the plot over the last two or three years. We have journalists writing at great length about their families and the habits of their family members, and whole pages on daily mishaps, mostly around the home. Some writer's garden wall falls down and that is big news for all of us, isn't it? I'll bet you're glad I don't bore you with the more mundane parts of life as a market trader, what my staff say to each other, what a calamity it is when the lorry breaks down, and how early I have to get up to start work before anyone else is about. Yet the Chron has been dishing out this stuff for some time now, and they wonder why the circulation has been going down?

Of course, they say they will be putting more daily news on the their Chronicle Internet web site, as quite a lot of people look at it already. Yes, many of these are the people who have stopped buying the newspaper, as they can see it on the Internet for free. But a lot of my older customers who do buy the Chron don't even have the Internet, and the demise of the Chron has come as a great shock. Some of them have never seen a web site. These old folks aren't suddenly going to learn, when the Chronicle is no more.

If they expand the web site, they will have to expand the advertising too, to help pay for it. They'll need to liven it up a bit too, with more space for readers letters and much more local investigative journalism.

Well, I'll guess the weekly Chron will last about two years, stuffed with adverts and too big to read properly, with a standard of journalism no better than at present. It won't sell enough to keep going, so the producers will put the boot in quietly, and say it's going onto the web entirely now, we'll see you there.

I hope I'm wrong, of course. We shall see...