LONG READ: Local news is moving to email and here’s what public sector comms needs to know 

Newspapers are on the move again and that’s something significant.

The new destination for newspapers – or to be more accurate news titles – is email.

News brands are compiling opt-in newsletters to capture readers in their inbox. 

Why so? It’s all about delivery mechanisms. For 200 years the newspaper was printed and delivered to the paper shop with sellers shouting their wares in the street. As a student in Newcastle in the early 1990s I’d pass two billboarded newsagents and three street sellers all trying to flog me the Chronicle.

I was surprised on a  recent visit to see them gone – along with the gas lighters two for a pound men.  

Navigating away from social media 

In 2023, newspapers are firmly navigating away from social media. They’re stung by being exposed by the whims of the algorithm shifting their audience. On top of that, Facebook and newspapers have really fallen out of love with each other. Their cut through is falling and news titles are looking for a new way to get attention. 

Reach plc who dominate the audience charts for local news in the UK are pushing newsletters big style. I first noticed this more than 12-months ago when the Stoke Sentinel pushed an email newsletter coverage for my team Stoke City.

My Stoke emails drop into my inbox daily and sometimes more than that when news breaks. As a supporter, that’s fine by me. Anything that avoids making a deeply painful visit to the website direct has to be good.  

Not just email but email first

Interestingly, the UK Press Gazette reported earlier this year that Reach plc was experimenting with serving email subscribers faster than the website or social media. They trialled this in Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire late last year. Earlier this year Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Hampshire followed.  

That’s a really interesting shift. 

The numbers back email 

On closer examination, this is a strategy that’s being adopted across the UK and not just by Reach plc. 

The numbers support email as a communications channel. In the UK, Statista data shows around 75 per cent using email and a clear majority of over 65s have this as an option. 

A quick trawl shows daily titles quicker to adopt the approach than weekly who are also adopting the approach. 

A sample of daily regional titles and email newsletters 

Birmingham Live (Reach) 13 news, 12 sport and 24 general = 49 emails

Walesonline (Reach) 16 news, 11 sport and 24 general = 51 emails

Sunderland Echo (National World) 1 news, 1 sport and 22 general = 24 emails

Aberdeen Press & Journal (DC Thomson) 0 emails

London Standard (Lebvedev) 1 email

Edinburgh Evening News (National World) 2 news, 2 sport, 22 general = 26 emails

Devon Live (Reach plc) 5 news, 6 sport 21 general = 32 emails

Belfast Telegraph (Mediahuis)  3 news, 1 sport, 1 general = 5 emails

Stoke-on-Trent Live (Reach plc) 2 news, 9 sport 22 general = 33 emails

Yorkshire Post (National World) 5 news, 0 sport, 20 general = 25 emails

A sample of daily regional titles and email newsletters 

Keswick Reminder (Barrnon Media) 0 emails

New Milton Advertiser & Lymington Times (NMN&M) 1 email

Down Recorder (Down Recorder) 0 emails

Surrey & Epsom Comet (Newsquest) 3 news 1 sport 1 general = 5 emails

Beccles and Bungay Journal (Newsquest) 2 news = 2 emails

Kentish Express (KM Group) 0 emails

Kilmarnock Standard (Reach plc) 4 news, 3 sport, 25 general = 32 **

John O’ Groat Journal (Highland News and Media) 1 news = 1 email

Driffield & Wolds Weekly (H&S Publishing) 0 emails

** Daily Record website

The kind of content works for email

Social media and news has been about video, live video and stock images. What seems to work for email newsletters is strong clickable sub-headings and strong fresh pictures. This makes sense. Use the same image over and over and people will think this is old news. 

And breaking news. What’s new? 

That’s reassuringly familiar. 

What this means for public sector comms

Well, for starters an awareness that the world continues to change.

Sign-up for your local ones to take a look yourself. You can often find a link on the news website. 

For content? Not many of the email newsletters I’ve browsed through are about local politics. So, local government people shouldn’t be too surprised if their new chief exec headshot doesn’t get much take-up. 

It would be a tip to get to know what newsletters operate in your area. Have a chat to the reporter to see who compiles them, what they’re after and when would be a good time to send the stuff. 

Also, if this tactic is working for news titles then this reinforces the effectiveness for email. But not just general email. Something quite specific. So, living in the Black Country I can opt for Black Country news from Reach plc’s Birmingham Live. That way I can screen out the Birmingham stuff that I generally don’t care about.

This also reinforces the idea that the deadline is once a day for a daily paper and once a week for a weekly. It is a rolling thing.    

It also means that the ability to create and test subject lines would be an asset to someone looking to have a long career.

Your response may be to curse loudly and say you’ve got enough email. But as again, you’re not the audience, are you?

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