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Leveson inquiry hears regional newspaper editors face tough ad market

Advertising in local papers has almost halved in five years, says editor of South Wales Evening Post

Advertising in regional newspapers has almost halved over the past five years, the editor of the South Wales Evening Post has told the Leveson inquiry.

Revenue from recruitment advertising, the lifeblood of local papers, has fallen dramatically because of rising unemployment and competition from the internet, regional editors told the inquiry today.

They echoed remarks made earlier in the week by Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey that advertising in certain categories including jobs, recruitment and property had collapsed.

Bailey told Leveson that at its pre-credit crunch peak the group, which has cut the number of regional papers it publishes from 160 to 140 in recent months, generated £150m in recruitment advertising but last year this had fallen to less than £20m.

Papers like the Trinity Mirror-owned Liverpool Echo had seen its previous stream of adverts for jobs such as “baggage handlers, taxi drivers, hairdressers … all but dried up”, Bailey said.

Leveson heard the same story from four regional editors on Wednesday. Spencer Feeney, editor of the South Wales Evening Post, said the general view is that advertising revenues in the past five years have “about halved”.

John McLellan, editor of the Scotsman said: “The big categories that have taken the steepest fall, recruitment, property and motors have taken the most flak, in particular recruitment which was the mainstay of the regional press, which it is fair to say has all but disappeared.”

McLellan added that the internet has offered advertisers an alternative to newspapers. “Traditionally regional newspapers regarded recruitment advertising across the board as a cash cow … There was nowhere else to go locally, that’s ended now.”

Feeney said that he feared local council advertising could be next. He told Leveson the Welsh assembly is considering removing the obligation for councils to publish traffic order announcements in the regional papers. If that goes through it will mean the loss of £1m a year in revenue.

But Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson was a bit more upbeat, declaring himself “not as pessimistic as some of the others”.

“The old inky product is not dead … bumping along the bottom was mentioned this week; that is still the case, [but] there is still a demand for a big print product in the hand.”

Lord Justice Leveson has repeatedly expressed concern about the future of local papers. He has said they perform a valuable service for communities, reporting from courts, on local councils and public sector bodies such as health authorities.

But all regional papers are facing the twin pressures of declining advertising and circulation.

McLellan said there may be a chink of light with the uptake of tablet reading on iPads and other devices. “The new way of reading on tablets or phones is that people are relearning they have to pay for these services,” he added.

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