Cambridge News’ print circulation “down 34 per cent to 7,124”



A huge collapse – how can it turn things around in an era of social media clickbait and declining print newspapers?

Sobering reading:

In second place was the Cambridge News – a newspaper I used to deliver on my paper round in the early 1990s, a time when they had multiple editions daily. (A hinderance when going through newspaper archives as they are all microfiched in the Cambridgeshire Collection).

Huge cuts in recent years to their staff – in particular in the under-rated but essential roles of sub-editing has led to excruciating errors like the one below.

171207 Cambridge News Headline Error with AC

Above – from 07 December 2017 – a mistake that actually led to lots of comment on the impact of job cuts in the regional media, and the impact on local democracy and accountability.

Then you’ve got the web click targets.

Mike Taylor of Somerset Live (the sister organisation to Cambridgeshire Live, the new online brand for the Cambridge News) comments below:

“Are media owners measuring the right metrics?”

You might get the click-throughs for a leading post like below…

190228 CambsLive FB clickbait example_1

…or a payment from a big theme park that requires a long drive…

190228 CambsLive FB clickbait example_3

…or a ‘read this and get angry / laugh at PC nonsense’ responses…

190228 CambsLive FB clickbait example_2

…but so what? At some stage, advertisers are going to figure out that it’s not just a numbers game, in the same way they figured that pop up adverts are annoying and can do more damage to their brands than not advertising in that manner at all.

“So, how do they reverse the decline?”

Asks every newspaper executive and journalist everywhere. And it’s hard work. Yet one of the best journalists in the business, Jess Brammar, a very long time Twitter friend, demonstrated what can be achieved by getting back to traditional journalistic values: Go to where the news is, don’t wait for it to come to you.

Another example of this is the local democracy reporter scheme – of which Cambridgeshire’s first journalist on the scheme, Josh Thomas, has just been snapped up by the Press Association in London.

The job of Local Government Correspondent in Cambridge has traditionally been one of the toughest gigs to do because of all of the meetings…


…you have to report from meetings at all of these places… (because Conservative ministers won’t restructure local government in England and are trying as many means as possible to keep control of Cambridge City even though they know Cambridge has stubbornly refused to elect a Conservative council since Margaret Thatcher became PM – a time when Cambridge was a safe Conservative parliamentary seat!)

The last three local government correspondents for the Cambridge News – Chris Havergal, Jon Vale and now Josh Thomas all went on to work for larger national organisations after their time on the Cambridge/South Cambs beat.

So if you’re interested, click above and apply. You will also get to work on TV and Radio.

Above – Local TV celebrity personality Josh Thomas and the case of the disappearing Donald. (Josh chased him up all the way to Scotland – something that got far more online coverage and repeat/returning viewers than clickbait). 

“So…what would get the readers coming back?”

Nothing according to Daniel Clark here:

I write as someone who buys the Cambridge News almost daily, and the Cambridge Independent weekly. Not everyone has the time or money. Furthermore, I don’t think any organisation has cracked the problem of seamlessly joining up their print content with their online content. The national dailies -esp the right-wing so-called mid-market papers effectively segregate their audiences by how they access it. The online version has the pics of glamour models having wardrobe malfunctions on beaches in exotic places in their ‘sidebars of shame’ while the print version sticks to its ‘read this and get angry’ headlines.

In the 1990s and 2000s a number of mainstream sporting magazines tried to rebrand themselves as ‘lads magazines’ but didn’t last long at all – 90 Minutes being one example before it imploded in the late 1990s. A shame as it was a very good weekly.

Getting the chance to get your name in the newspapers – for the right reasons

An old-fashioned value perhaps, but are you more likely to buy or at least read an article if it features someone in it that you know? Are you more likely to buy it if it covers things that you take part in? Growing up I remember the few occasions of local pride when some of us were mentioned in the local paper when it featured local sports clubs, local school theatre performances and so on.

Cambridge & Cambridgeshire are full of local societies – but where are the news updates from them?

This comes back to the ‘don’t wait for the news to come to you’ complaint, but also asks civic society to be more proactive in how they work with local media. One of the longest-standing societies in Cambridge is the Cambridge Antiquarian Society. It has been going since the mid-1800s. Someone has also very kindly digitised their entire back catalogue which goes back to 1859. In its heyday, the society would feature regularly in local media – not least because some of the biggest names in town and gown were active members of the organisation. (Even a young Eglantyne Jebb joined in 1908).

For societies that have meetings and events on a regular basis, getting into a habit of submitting short articles on what happened, and getting to know your local reporters is something Chris Elliott, lately the Chief Reporter of the Cambridge News, advised civic society organisations in Cambridge back in 2013. The increasing social media literacy that Cambridge Council for Voluntary Services has been pushing for some time – and now bearing fruit, should make for more interesting and more diverse content than simply raw text.

Civic society and local businesses taking a stake in local media

There is an inevitable conflict of interest if the above started directed editorial policy – editors need to be independent, reporting without fear or favour, and local journalists must be able to speak the truth to power. But the risk of this can be managed. The current ownership model of local and regional mainstream newspapers doesn’t allow for alternative means of ownership – i.e. a small number of large firms owning multiple titles and brands. The syndicating and centralisation as is happening at Heart Radio doesn’t bode well for Cambridgeshire either.

“Haven’t we been here before?”

Three years ago.

“How should Cambridge communicate with its residents, institutions, and each other?”

…was the theme of my blogpost here back in 2016. At the time I was commenting on too many organisations trying to target too few media organisations in their communications strategies. Given the closure of the Heart Radio News studio in Cambridge, and the news of the collapse of circulation of the Cambridge News, it’s time for Cambridge & Cambridgeshire to deal with this difficult issue. Especially with some of the controversies happening in local democracy that really need public scrutiny.




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