Among the many things that The Telegraph’s exclusive investigation into MPs’ expenses has shown us is that reports of the death of newspapers may be exaggerated.
The jaw-dropping revelations of how our politicians have been exploiting the system to furnish their homes with plasma TVs, patio heaters and massage chairs lifted sales of the paper by almost 19,000 copies a day last month.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that good scoops are key to the survival of newspapers (the print versions, that is) in the digital age. Without exclusives what incentive is there for people to go out and buy a paper if they can switch on their computers and read it online free of charge?
It also doesn’t take a genius to work out that exclusives require good journalists, many of whom- traditionally – started their careers in the regions covering council meetings and court cases. They have basically done the leg work of national journalists who then help themselves to the fruits of their low -paid peers’ labours from the wires because they don’t have time to leave the office.
However, as the former BBC reporter Nicholas Jones points out in an excellent posting on his blog, regional and local titles up and down the country are closing at an alarming rate, putting hundreds of journalists, sub-editors, designers and picture editors out of work. Analysts predict that by 2012 the annual spend on regional newspaper classified advertising will have fallen by £650m from £1.8bn in 2004.
If regional newspapers are the breeding ground for Fleet Street’s finest, the future certainly looks grim for the national press. The PR industry will also suffer as, to quote Jones, agencies "will find it harder in years to come to find a ready-made supply of new recruits who have had that all-important training on local newspapers".
So what’s the future?
Lord Carter is widely expected to propose in his Digital Britain review today that the BBC share part of its licence fee with ITV, which because of the collapse in advertising revenue and the growth of the internet can no longer afford to make regional news and other so-called public service programming. Faced with the same challenges, asks the media commentator Roy Greenslade, don’t regional newspapers also qualify for a bite of the licence fee? I agree with him that they do. After all, they offer a vital public service, too.