I have often complained about the dearth of business news in our area. Our local weekly paper, the Courier, can only manage a double page spread and the resources of one freelance journalist. The Argus, which is daily, has business news once a week and tends to be centred on Brighton. Across the border in Kent, The weekly Kent Messenger produces an 8-page supplement once a month.
In magazine form, we have South East Business, which is increasingly beholden to thinly disguised advertorials. Kent Director is run out of Cambridge, Sussex Business Times has disappeared and I haven't seen a copy of Business First for several months either.
The issue, of course, is advertising, or rather, a lack of it. With advertising revenues having plummeted and so much content being available for free on-line, there is no money to pay the journalists. This is not a healthy situation for any of us. We need quality journalism in a democratic society, whether it is reporting on local news or international conflicts
The dilemma for media owners is well documented, and, whatever the answer to their conundrum is, it is hard to see how it lies in advertising. A recent survey showed that most marketers now find print advertising the least effective form of promotion when measured in ROI terms.
This is hardly surprising. The Internet in general and Twitter in particular has allowed us all to become our own editors. We can pick out the content we want from a vast array of sources and easily filter out anything we don't want most commonly, the advertising. There is no shortage of readers; it is just that they have gone to other sources, such as blogs, e-newsletters and social media.
I had these thoughts in mind when The Courier came to see me this week to talk about its new approach to business news. The paper, like the Kent Messenger before it, has decided to consolidate the business news into a monthly 8-page supplement. I like the idea. In fact, I'd like to see it go further and set up an on-line forum to allow two-way dialogue with the business community on business news.
Naturally, the representative didn't come to see me for my insight: it was to sell advertising and what struck me this time was, rather than give me the usual spiel about stellar circulations and perfectly aligned audience demographics, the approach was to say if local businesses want a business paper, they will have to support it with advertising.
I don't know if I find this resigned or refreshingly honest. Either way, it does raise the question about how media owners will be selling their advertising in future: as a means of raising awareness of products and services, or as a form of corporate social responsibility
But isn't this the way that newspapers started in the first place as a way for business people to promote their political persuasion and points of view? Perhaps it's true. Everything does come full circle in the end.
What do you think? Do businesses have a responsibility to support their local media with advertising?