Advance warning of gales and turbulence at the bottom of this garden: readers with enhanced sensitivity should tune out and under 18s should go to bed NOW.

Doncaster. Barnsley. Lynn (where?) All wonderful townships in the UK.  Barnsley once had coalmines, and gritty Yorkshiremen who won’t pay ‘owt for nowt come from there. Doncaster has a race track and a motorway junction. Lynn is … in Kent ?  Or is it East Lynn?  See my problem?  When something happens in these places it has to be big to get national coverage in the UK.  Otherwise, these are small places with small local newspapers …

Today reports that the local newspaper websites from these three very respectable places (where is Lynn – perhaps it’s a girl?) will get paywalls in Johnston Press’s new Murdoch-inspired “make them pay and snub Google” policy.  Yes, Johnston Press, whose last CEO walked out of Fish4 (then the UK’s co-operative regional press classified advertising service online) on no less than three occasions when he bought news groups who had shares.  Johnston Press, which denied the existence of a web threat until the onset of the current recession.  Johnston Press, which has stared fixedly at annual losses in circulation for a decade without making a major strategic move to do anything about it, and which went over a precipice of advertising decline in the last two years.  Yes, that Johnston Press, whose then CEO , in a conference at no less a place than the Worshipful Company of Stationers a few years ago, when I asked from the floor why so few people under 30 read their newspapers, and those numbers were declining, said with all the silky charm of a newsman ” well, history shows they always come back when they get older”.

Grrrrah!  That feels better.  History shows that revolutions do take place, and sadly some great people, including the present CEO of Johnston, will get hurt by it.  The people of Barnsley will use Google to find the BBC local radio news, the paywall will eventually kill the web presence in Doncaster, the key people at Johnston will find other media activities, and the shareholders, who have been as careful about voicing criticism as investors in Britain’s banks, will wonder where their investment went.

And it is all so unnecessary.  I have been researching community and social media advertising environments this week.  It is clear to me that we were quite right at Fish4, where I was chairman in the mid-1990s, when we said “build national, sell local via community web presence”.  So the people of Doncaster will, if events run as I fear, lose their local newspaper because a lot of stubborn managers cannot distinguish between users’ needs and format of delivery.  Stick to the first, be agnostic on the second – this is the clear lesson of history.  As they say in Yorkshire, someone who ignores that is a “daft ha’porth”.

Take one last look before they go behind a paywall and into the DarkNet:, and  £5 for a three month subscription!


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2 Comments so far

  1. Peter McKay on November 27, 2009 09:09

    Now that’s what us yorkshire folk see as calling a spade, a spade and not a blinking shovel.
    The recent research about the information habits of scientific researchers confirms that we are all prone to move to the readily available and free rather than travel through barriers, especially if there is a toll.

  2. Iain Burns on December 1, 2009 12:33

    And the added irony (or should that be giggle) is that the media world is watching this experiment with bated breath. So go for it – Doncaster, Barnsley and Lynn (I’ve no idea where that is either) – enjoy your 5 minutes of fame. On your response the future of online news media depends!