What does the future of the print news industry look like?

Cllr Lewis welcomes media debate from The Scotsman, The Herald, and Evening News and academic insight from Edinburgh Napier University’s journalism department

Richard Lewis

This week at the Edinburgh Council’s Culture & Sport Committee, I was thankful to bring together stalwarts of the Scottish newspaper industry to present on the outlook for print media – particularly around the arts and sports.

The state and health of print media in this country is quite rightly an ongoing debate due to the ever-adaptive nature of online news access and the huge changes taking place across the UK’s newspaper and magazine industry as a whole. While the option to access news online and by mobile phone is an important digital news revolution, it is equally important that access to printed information is maintained and not compromised for those audiences – particularly elderly generations - who may be daunted by, or else cannot access, the web. But regardless of whether articles are read on a screen or on paper, it is the Scottish public’s need for trusted, impartial information and critique that is at the heart of this debate.

Aptly described by the panel as a “Georgian industry that needs to adapt quickly to the 21st Century”, newspapers face the conundrum of maintaining the printed word while increasing digital access in a way that brings in revenue. Touching on this, the journalists at the debate brought up the interesting part played by the BBC when it comes to widely available, local news. Does the current model of the public service broadcaster impact newspapers in Scotland – and the websites they run – because of the fact they do not operating on a level playing field? Can revenue based news outlets really compete against such a large publicly funded service? The media panel was unanimous that for the newspaper industry in Scotland, print purchases drive the most revenue but online readers are put off by subscriptions and pay walls. Especially when they can access the BBC News website for free.

Against such a changing backdrop, what I’m interested in is the role of the media - and local reporting in particular - in cultural and artistic coverage of the museums and music, galleries and theatres and many ‘one off’ community events that take pride of place at venues across Edinburgh and Scotland.

Hearing about the panellists’ thoughts on  the most popular types of articles, I found myself realising how symbiotic the relationship is between newspapers, readers and cultural and sporting venues. The panel confirmed that by and large the ‘front section’ of news stories and back pages of sport are still the most read sections of newspapers. As a Council, we spend around £5 million funding and sustaining core areas of the arts in this city. Local news reviews of performances and exhibitions do drive visitors to Council funded events and these events provide reporters with stories of local interest to readers. Any potential squeeze on arts reporters or indeed space dedicated to review of the arts in local papers is something that that the Culture & Sport committee has a reason to be interested in debating.

Whatever shape the Scottish media takes in years to come it is close to my heart that local papers still find room for the exceptional expert opinion and comments they are known for when reporting the arts. It is my belief that our local press is not only a resource keeping abreast of what is happening in our own communities but it is a massive part of Scotland’s unique cultural identity. When it comes to national interests, the arts and local reporting are twinned.

Cllr Richard Lewis is Convener of the Culture & Sport Committee

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