Original form of social media

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The Northumberland Gazette’s switch this week from broadsheet to compact follows three years of audience research. Readers called for the change to the more convenient format and it listened.

It’s an important move for our regional paper. Changing the physical format of a 158-year-old product isn’t a trivial decision. But it’s an innovation combined with changes to the website that marks out its future success. Here’s the issue for traditional media businesses.

The internet has destroyed and rebuilt every industry it has touched. The media industry remains a work in progress. Change is the only certainty.

The internet has enabled content to be created, shared and discovered at low cost, challenging the news industry’s fixed deadlines, infrastructure and supply chains. Publications have faced new competition for the attention of their readers and have had to work harder than ever to generate advertising revenue.

But it’s not all bad news. Newspapers such as the Northumberland Gazette are more engaged with their readers than ever before thanks to social media.

The letters page used to be the only means of communication from readers to journalists.

Now as readers we can comment on stories online, and engage with journalists directly via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Newspapers themselves have added new forms of content to their websites, such as audio and video and have become social. Look closely at the bottom of stories posted on the Northumberland Gazette website and you’ll notice buttons that will allow you to share the content.

Arguably the Gazette is the original and leading form of social media in Northumberland. Its content was shared, discussed and debated long before the arrival of social networks.

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, it provides us with news that has been verified and a clear point of view. We trust and rely on its content.

The death of newsprint has been called incorrectly on numerous occasions over the last decade.

But while there’s no doubt that the audience for national newspapers is in decline as it turns to other sources, the story of regional newspapers is different.

Some publications have closed and others have shifted from daily to weekly formats. But those papers such as the Northumberland Gazette, that have been brave and listened to their community and have innovated, are enjoying success.

A strong media is important to the functioning of a healthy community in spearheading campaigns and holding the community to account. Thanks to innovation at the Gazette, the outlook for our regional newspaper is healthy.

Stephen is a media commentator and author of Brand Anarchy, a bestselling book about the future of the media and corporate reputation. He has been a reader of the Northumberland Gazette for five years since moving to Holystone, near Rothbury. You can connect with him on Twitter @wadds.