FIRST the small print: There are 1,100 local newspapers and 1,700 associated websites in the UK.
The local press is the UK’s most popular print medium, read by 30 million people a week.
Local media websites attract 79 million unique users each month.
The Southern Daily Echo’s website (dailyecho.co.uk) attracts over 750,000 unique users each month.
Over 60 per cent of people act on the ads in local newspapers.
Seventy per cent of people spend half or more of their money within five miles of home.
Local newspapers are more than twice as trusted as any other media channel.
Now I have your attention with the bald facts, you can understand why I am puzzled when, from time to time, I am asked when the Southern Daily Echo is going to stop providing news for our region.
True, such questions are few and far between, but they do arise.
They are based, no doubt on the false assumption, much peddled it has to be said by some of our friends in other media, that the arrival of the Internet means the doom of the local press.
A glance at those figures above – 79 million unique users visiting the websites of local newspapers each month, over 600,000 for the Daily Echo alone – explains why we in the regional press have nothing to fear from the web.
Indeed, when I ask those who say to me they no longer read a newspaper where they get their local news from now, the inevitable answer is from our website.
The question then should be not when local newspapers are going to vanish, but why in a world where information and news is available in the palm of our hands at the touch of a button, why when there are millions of websites that can and do offer news services, do so many people go to their local newspaper site to learn the facts?
The answer also lies in those statistics above.
The local press has over decades, sometimes more than a century as in the case of this paper, earned the trust and support of its readers to the point where we are trusted more than twice the amount than other media.
Quite why that would be is simple to understand. We more than any other media must live and work within our communities.
The success of our towns, villages and cities matters to us just as much as everyone who lives and works in them.
Our staff travel on the same transport, use the same shops, pay the same taxes, enjoy the same entertainments and, in most cases, support the same football teams as our readers.
We send our children to local schools, we vote in local elections, we care whether too few or too many homes are built on our green fields or what happens to our parks and waterfronts.
We support young people – Pride in our Teens, Pride in our Kids – because we have families and we understand that so much of what children do for the good goes unnoticed.
In short, we live and breathe our communities. That is why we are trusted.
We know what we write will be scrutinised by those who will and do hold us to account each and every day. And our readers let us know when they feel we are not coming up to scratch. For that reason alone, although there are many others, the editor of a local newspaper learns quickly that the little things matter: place names, locations, history, the area’s heritage.
And because we are trusted and listened to, readers come to us when they need a strong voice to make others listen.
They know that we can make a difference to their lives. Be it from campaigning on important local issues, championing a local cause, promoting the campaigns of residents, supporting individuals in their fight against authority or powerful bodies, or just giving a single person the space to have their say, we are there to shout up.
For businesses we are there to make a difference too. We support development and spotlight excellence, endeavour and excellence. Our South Coast Business Awards encourage the very best in the commercial world and we provide a platform for businesses to talk to their customers and each other. The paper’s Boom not Gloom emphasis seeks to encourage and not to undermine those who provide jobs and prosperity for our communities.
And in providing advertising platforms for businesses big and small, we breathe the oxygen of publicity that draws custom and prosperity.
The Daily Echo sees itself very much as a campaigning newspaper and website. In the recent past we have fought and won many such campaigns, from our award-winning Have a Heart campaign to save children’s heart services at Southampton General Hospital, to the Give Clampers the Boot campaign which helped see off rogue parking companies.
We have helped raise money to assist those in our communities who cannot go it alone, and been the voice of multi-million pound initiatives to help fight crippling disease and illness such as the Red and White Appeal to combat blood cancers.
Recently our spotlight on those having to live in mould-ridden accommodation has helped families to find safe lodging for their children to grow up in.
We do not always win. But we do fight on your behalf to the best of our ability.
Making a Difference is the title of this year’s Local Newspaper Week which starts today and is the reason I am writing this piece, of course.
It is a time each year when we blow our own trumpets and, well, remind you our readers of what we do.
Perhaps, taking into account all of the above including those statistics, we do not need to shout about ourselves.
Why do we need to remind you of the part we play in your lives when the very fact we enjoy your support to such a degree indicates you are well aware of us?
The answer is that with the Daily Echo, indeed with every local newspaper, more than any other media ours is a pact, a friendship even between the paper and the community we serve. In a sense then I am saying thank you for helping us to fight our campaigns big or small.
Without you we could not Make a Difference.