Business leader urges local newspapers to ‘embrace change’

By Jon Cronshaw

andrew hebden photo

Journalists need commercial nous to survive in the online world, according to the assistant regional director of the Confederation of British Industry.

Andrew Hebden said local newspapers needed to embrace change or lose out to internet competitors: “Newspapers have been complacent about their business models.”

Speaking at Journalism Week at Leeds Trinity University, he said they had relied for too long on traditional means of generating revenue, adding: “What were once healthy profit margins have now been decimated.”

Mr Hebden, 33, pointed to a resistance by traditional news organisations to embrace changes in society and technology.

The former local news reporter, who still writes a column for nebusiness.co.uk, added that journalists themselves were also partly to blame. He said: “Journalists need a bit of commercial nous – they’re businesses like any other.”

He said it was a difficult time for newspapers, and that many of them were restructuring and downsizing, but urged caution, adding: “Newspapers need to be sustainable in the long term.”

The key to a sustainable future for local news, according to Mr Hebden, came from “the bridging of the gap between editorial and commercial” aspect of the newspaper’s business.

He said that running campaigns in partnership with businesses was an underutilised way for newspapers to generate much-needed revenue.

Mr Hebden pointed to the Go Green campaign run by The Press and Journal in Aberdeen in 2009 in partnership with Scottish and Southern Energy. The scheme raised £40,000 for the paper, where he worked as business editor and news editor. He said: “If you do it very well, it can be enough to safeguard a newspaper.”

Newspapers must embrace change, and work towards providing news on a variety of platforms if they are to survive.

He said: “Newspapers need to get an online strategy that works – but need to respond to their region’s needs.”

He added that the Newcastle Chronicle’s website focuses mainly on sports news, which has made the website an excellent revenue stream for the paper.

To watch the video of Mr Hebden’s entire talk, click here.

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