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Putting the focus on ‘news you can use’

Media executives have been beating a path to Tampa, Florida, for several years to see the future: the converged newsroom that brings together the Tampa Tribune, WFLA TV and tbo.com. This week the Tribune announced that it was cutting 70 jobs of which “fewer than 10” will be from the 280-strong newsroom.

Lucas Grindley who works not that far away in Sarasota and is an advocate of convergence, says, “Not even convergence was a strong enough tactic to overcome the continuing drop in revenues felt across the industry.”

We need to be very careful about drawing any conclusions for the UK from what is happening in Florida where there are 42 daily newspapers serving a rapidly growing population of around 18 million.

The Tribune faces fierce competition from the St Petersburg Times across the bay and smaller newspapers in the region. Its plan is to withdraw from some fringe areas, focus on “hyper-local news” and trim half-an-inch from its page width.

President and Publisher Denise Palmer is quoted in Editor and Publisher saying:

Our newspaper is experiencing the challenges of changing reader needs and fundamental shifts in spending by our traditional advertisers. We are reducing resources in areas that are in decline and investing in areas of growth, including local news and the Internet.

Some neighbourhood editions are to be merged with weekly papers owned by the group. Palmer told her own paper:

We know from research that our readers want news that is hyperlocal and useful to their daily lives. We plan to provide more focused products to better serve changing reader and advertiser needs. At the same time, we will accelerate efforts to operate more efficiently.

While news markets are very different in the US even there the Tampa operation is unusual in owning both the paper and the TV station. But the emphasis on practical local “news you can use” is relevant to the UK.

A couple of weeks ago one of my oldest friends in journalism visited us in Suffolk, picked up a copy of the East Anglian Daily Times and said: “This is what all newspapers will be like in a few years.”

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