Speaking at a lunch event attended by Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and The Countess of Wessex today (Thursday), Sir Ray pointed to Sir Martin Sorrell’s recent comments about the high levels of engagement with printed newspapers as evidence that local newspapers “have a long future ahead.”
At the lunch to mark the 150th Anniversary of South London Press, chairman of Tindle Newspapers Sir Ray said: “Local communities want their own local newspaper. Local communities will always have their own local newspaper. Local democracy demands it. With journalists and newspaper men and newspaper women like these, be assured that local papers will survive.
“Only a few days ago the chief of the biggest advertising agency in the country, Sir Martin Sorrell, said recent research had shown that readers were more likely to retain information gained from newspapers than information conveyed in other forms. This is one more good reason to be sure newspapers have a long future ahead.”
Also speaking at the lunch, Mr Whittingdale outlined his strong support for the industry and the ways the Government was looking to help it such as the business rates consultation and discussions with the BBC about ways to partner with local newspapers. He said: “What I’ve been talking to the BBC about is the way in which, rather than taking journalistic content and not acknowledging it, instead they can commission it and buy it in.
“And I’m very clear that can help local newspapers and it can help support them but I’m also clear that it does need to be an initiative which is designed to support local newspapers, not undermine them, and that means it shouldn’t be done by the BBC, there should be a means by which they look to have local providers which will probably be local newspapers because you are so closely embedded in your local communities.”
South London Press: a ‘shining example’
Mr Whittingdale paid tribute to the South London Press as a “shining example of all that is best about local newspapers”. He added: “In my view, local newspapers are absolutely essential to the country and to the democracy of our life here.”
Speaking about the relationship between local papers and politicians, he said: “The local press is absolutely vital in ensuring that our electors here know about what we are doing, sometimes criticising us when they think we’re not doing enough. But how else are local people able to make a judgement about the performance of their elected representatives and their local institutions, except through the local press?”
Sir Ray continued: “In the war-time army they told us something along the same lines. They said “anyone can stand on parade in a smart soldier’s uniform but can you stand firm under enemy fire?” Your Royal Highness, Secretary of State, the answer from most of the local press and certainly from here at the South London Press and The Mercury is a resounding ‘Yes’. This marvellous staff here has stood firm under the worst recession conditions known in living memory.”
Sir Ray spoke about the launch of hyperlocal editions of the South London Press in 2012, saying that local advertisement revenue had increased by 30 per cent and circulation risen noticeably as a result of the launches.
Sir Ray continued: “Your Royal Highness, and Secretary of State, many of these executives and staff here before you fought their way through that dire crisis in 2012 with these papers which are the oldest weekly newspapers in London. All the staff here today are fighting the current difficulty so everyone here deserves the same recognition. We are so grateful for the interest being shown by the Secretary of State and others in the Press at this time. This group has not lost a single paper in this recession and we assure you the local newspapers of the UK are doing their very best to be here to celebrate another 150 years of life in the year 2165.
“Independent local family papers have pretty tough staff, a great history going back over two centuries in some cases and a great determination shown by every one of us. We ourselves, a purely weekly group of 200 local titles started with my demob money from the wartime Army, have launched 35 new titles since this recession began, Philip Evans and Hannah and Karen producing many of them.”
Pictured top: Sir Ray Tindle addresses South London Press staff watched by chief guest The Countess of Wessex and Secretary of State John Whittingdale (foreground).
Above: The Countess of Wessex and Sir Ray about to unveil a plaque commenorating 150 years of the South London Press