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“Why I’m optimistic about the future of the press” - Echo Editor

The decline in newspaper circulation, both nationally and locally, has caused growing panic in the industry for several years. As print sales plummet, online content and social media has thrown the print business into an uneasy state of shock and awe.

Online provides the ability to connect with readers instantly and generate news content more quickly than ever before and many commentators believe it has enhanced the modern day quality of journalism.

However, many fear the development of web led journalism has left newspapers on the sidelines wondering whether they are still competitors for readers’ attention. With younger generations tapping into smart phones and Ipads,
will print be left in the dust? If so what does this mean for young journalists going into the industry?

In the face of these dire predictions for print journalism, Toby Granville, group editor of the Bournemouth Daily Echo and the Dorset Echo, is more optimistic. He has had 25 years experience in the industry and is at the forefront of the ongoing struggle of print. He believes that readers now expect their news to be presented as a package; consisting of newspapers, websites, pictures, tweets, Facebook updates and video.

He said: “People always say to me what is happening with our circulation? But we look at it now as an overall audience. Whether people choose to read our stories online at the desktop, on the smart phone, on the Ipad or in the newspaper, we have to see it as a combined audience.”

Figures produced by the Audit Bureau of Circulations in July last year showed that the monthly circulation figures for most of the national newspapers had dipped significantly from June the same year.

Many have wondered if online will be the death of print but as Toby points out online and social media can be used to improve the quality of journalism and build readership for both mediums.

He said: “Online is good because it gives you a steer on what people want to read whereas before you would go on pure instincts. You have got a core element of readers reading the paper first. It is almost like having a focus group so because of that engagement it is really good.”

Toby does recognise that online has created more competition than there was before.

“There is a lot more pressure on us now - so many more eyes and ears are out there who are able to broadcast. But it is all about capturing the moment.

For newspapers it is hard to find out about things after they have happened but if people are ringing us to tell us it is happening and they have a picture of it, that is fantastic.”

However the industry is more demanding than ever for new journalists entering journalism. In the race to compete with online new journalists are under even more pressure to equip themselves with online and print tools.

“The whole area is now changing so rapidly that the skills and the newsroom is developing all the time. Now the reporters that are coming in are so versatile and need to be because of the change of news. For us our newspaper is all about getting the best coverage, all about getting it first and getting it fast. They need to be out there covering it live as the story unravels.”

Despite the demands, there are more job opportunities than ever in both print and online. As printed on The Rock’s front page, there are plans to create a regional media hub in the South to rival London.

The hub is the vision of Ian Murray, President of the Society of Editors and Editor of the Daily Echo in Southampton.

It has been endorsed by Toby himself, who believes Bournemouth University is generating many talented journalists.

“There is so much home grown talent here in the area. Particularly the University which develops so much talent and most of the recruits we have in our newspapers in Dorset come from here.

“There are so many good opportunities here and I think that coupled with a good quality of life and the fact that there are other big businesses moving out of London into the area - for example JP Morgan, LV= and other big recruiters - it does generate even more stories and content for our newspapers. On that basis it sounds like a very good project.”

Despite the excitement new technology creates for newsrooms, it can cause problems for newspaper readership because the readers are less likely to read the print version if they have seen the online version of the story. Toby explains the Bournemouth Echo has found a way around this dilemma.

“From our point of view it is still very much a print business even though the readership is soaring online.

“It is about finding the balance to maintain the story web figures but still not forgetting the product that a lot of readers are still buying. So what we aim to do at the Bournemouth Echo is provide our readers with a surprise front page every morning.”

With this in mind it is clear that while there is pressure there is also room for growth. Toby’s advice for future journalists is to understand the tools they have at their disposal and use them.

He said: “The advice I would give is to make sure they have a thorough understanding of social media and the value of generating media from Facebook and Twitter.”

He also advised student to be prolific in building up contacts online.

Toby added that while original core values were still required, students also needed multimedia skills “so they can offer the full package to newsrooms”.

The future of print is unclear but Toby feels the print industry will be strengthened by its relationship with online and especially smartphones.

“I don’t know what the technology will be after but I think it is the package of news, video and pictures at readers fingertips and the accessibility through smartphones, that is where the future will be.”