My favourite newspaper – weekly and hyperlocal


I know this is odd but my mother and I share an unspoken bond over a newspaper. Well, unspoken till now I guess. But in all the talk of hyperlocal news on the web and the local paper here in Birmingham going from daily to weekly I thought I’d explain why the Connacht Tribune is the greatest newspaper in the world.

The Tribune is a regional broadsheet covering the county of Galway in the west of Ireland. Because it has a sister paper covering the city of Galway (the City Tribune News) it’s free to focus on rural issues and covers news from all areas of Galway, including the region that my mother is from (North East Galway). I say ‘news’ but more often, once it gets down to these smaller, more sleepy areas, it focuses on cultural, social and farming stuff. So the price of sheep in the local market sits alongside the names of the winners of the local card game tournament. Its sports coverage of Gaelic games is incredibly comprehensive as well, right down to schools level.


Its coverage of deal people is second to none. Death announcement and death anniversaries take up several pages. Such things are a real feature of local newspapers in Ireland, perhaps the one income stream that’s remained steady in the face of the advertising downturn.

Overall it has a depth of coverage that would be the envy of other local newspapers. Its quite a read, as weeklies should be. And in communities where access to the web is problematic the paper version is vital for well, knowing how expensive sheep are. But for me and Mom it has a deeper resonance. For her it connects her to the area she left nearly 50 years ago and for me it connects me to her, to the place that shaped her early experiences and a place that I spent every summer holiday from the early 70s till the late 80s.

The problem at the moment is actually finding a copy in the UK. It used to be the case that finding a wide selection of regional Irish newspapers was easy, many local newsagents in specific neighbourhoods stocked them as a matter of course. Or at least they would order them in. But whatever supply chain was operating in Birmingham seems to have ground to a halt as far as the Tribune is concerned. It just seems to have dissapeared from the shelves.

But its scarcity is, if anything, making it more important to us. That we can’t get a joint fix of it until one of us goes to Ireland to get a bundle of back copies has if anything made it clear how much we value it.

Like nearly all newspapers, its website is of course rubbish, but who cares. This is hyperlocal as I understand it, something that I’ve yet to see the web replicate and kind of hope it doesn’t any day soon.

5 thoughts on “My favourite newspaper – weekly and hyperlocal

  1. I find your use of the term “hyperlocal” interesting here: is this not just, well, local? And in fact could a newspaper which serves a locality be OK in the financial downturn? We have a whole network of targeted local newspapers in the UK that we never talk about: why?

    Back home in Guernsey the local newspaper seems to be doing OK (I looked for some solid data on this a few weeks ago, all I could find without breaking a sweat was their readership stats which are healthy as ever). It’s a daily paper that is still read by most (80%) of the adults. And it charges a cover price. It’s been through its problems and changes: buyouts, broadsheet to euro format, restructuring etc. but it seems to be pretty healthy from what I can see.

    It does exist in something of a bubble: Guernsey still has independent retailers who buy advertising locally and have an affinity with the paper (so there’s your revenue stream), and the paper matters to people in a way that a paper like the Birmingham Post perhaps doesn’t because in Guernsey local politicians have executive powers with a wider reach than a local councillor would have (Guernsey raises it’s own tax, fixes it’s own budget, and writes it own laws). However if it didn’t serve the public in a way which made sense to them it’s fair to say the audience would vote with its feet and those advertising pounds would vanish.

    So what do the local audience want?

    Journalism purists suggest we want and need local journalism to hold our elected representatives to account; the desire for journalistic representation at the local level is born of ideals of democracy, public sphere, and civic engagement. This is probably true. Perhaps people also want to know what events are happening in their community, they want to buy second hand cars or houses, and they want to see themselves, their friends and their families celebrated in newsprint.

    I can understand why regional newspapers are in crisis as they’re finances are tied up into fights for a share of national advertising revenue from large chains and multiple stores. I wonder if the crisis in local journalism is more about the quality or perceived quality of local output and its relevance to the audience.

    For example my “local” newspaper in Birmingham is a freesheet: The Sutton News. It serves an area larger than Guernsey, yet it is a weekly title, and what little resources it had have been eroded as its parent organisation try to pull everything back to prop up their “quality” regional titles. That’s not just idle speculation but what I saw when working alongside the editorial team at the Observer during the last few months they had an office in the town.

    Somewhere in the past something happened to make us understand free newspapers as worthless. The pubic don’t seem to value them or take them to their hearts the way they do a “proper” newspaper. The rhetoric of news organisations seems aimed at reinforcing this message by decrying “free” as a business model and insisting on the importance of the consumer paying a cover price to access “quality” journalism, while all the while profiting from their own freesheets: “Free news is bad” say the media companies, while shovelling ads through your door wrapped in free content.

    When Trinity Mirror announced their latest restructuring of the Birmingham Post and The Birmingham Mail I really thought they’d missed a trick. The quality, weekly news and reflection that will be going into the Post could have formed a regional news section wrapped into the existing local freesheet newspapers: at a stroke this revitalises the local titles, reduces the need for a weekly regional title, and strikes out for the richer pickings of local targetted advertising.

    Sure, we might lose the name ‘Birmingham Post’ as a stand alone but I wonder how far away that day is anyway?

  2. I think I’m using the term ‘hyper-local’ to bait discussion….

    Although telling me who won the card game in a particular pub (which it often does) does seem something beyond local.

  3. Now you’re really baiting me: they’re not telling you who won the card game, they’re telling the person who won the card game that they won the card game.

    We all want to be loved. There is no better validation than being in print.

  4. I think rural papers like Dave talks about and the issue of free sheets mainly in urban areas are very different. The Galway example is replicated in rural areas of the UK but rarely in urban areas. I used to live in Barmouth and the “local” paper there had similar “parochial” concerns and you had to have particular interests in the area to want to read it. Content was basic and because of resources much was written by non-professional writers. It was paid for and supportred by local advertising.

    The problem with Free Sheets is that our attitudes are probably in response to when they started being more widespread – in the first wave many years ago – that is that their main concern was to earn money from advertising so “content” was only there to pad things out and was often minimal, poorly written by non-professionals or by badly paid juniors. Some of this is to be seen in property pages and other supplements where written content is little more than PR and often written by the barely literate – “has views of its own acreage” for example.

    The phrase Free Sheet also refers to the rather different and more recent ones like the Metro which are usually off shoots of companies that have more tradiional papers in the group. Resources are better than the original frees and often shared with those trad papers but still the emphasis on advertising income so content is a mix of recycled stuff from all over plus some more specific local content. I would argue that they are increasingly starved of credible journalistic resources and so although “better” than the original frees are still not seen for good reason as credible alternatives to trad papers. I don’t think its just in papers that free is seen as not as good – it is still the case that in most fields something provided free is looked at with suspicion. The only area where this is not the case is on the net where free is seen as the default without necessarily comprising quality.

    I understand Jon’s points but I’m not convinced that income from local targetted advertisers is capable of supporting the resources needed to provide content that is credible. The trad papers have always relied on the equation that advertisers will follow readership but now that is clearly under threat. No one yet wants to pay for content on the web and I don’t see free local papers as providing an alternative business model that will give us anything like the breadth of coverage we are used to.

    I think we will lose the Post – we have already in truth as I can’t see it being sustainable in its new form. As a weekly it will lose whatever out of region credibility it has held onto and will become even more of a niche title appealing only to a narrow range of people.

    I’ll declare an interest as a member of the NUJ who is very worried that we are losing a significant part of our profession. The latest issue of the Journalist reports how many journos are moving from print and web writing to working for NGOs and charities. Without proper printed papers and well resourced websites there will be no training ground for journos. And although valuable and interesting i think we have a long way to go to replace the lost opportunities and jobs with digital alternatives.

    Of course journalism has its compromises and there as many hacks as there are top notch investigative journos but I think its a profession we still need. There have always been community activists and people concerned to uncover the stuff councils and the like want hidden but there are limits to what non-professionals can do – I still think we need dedicated professionals on the case too.

    Change will come and the trad business model is under threat and needs to change but managements and owners are also over zeolous in my view in cost cutting and profit seeking. News used to run by people who cared about news and who were content to make the business stay above water. That’s no longer the case and business for businesses sake is in the ascendancy.

    I wonder if a mention on a website will ever rival that of being mentioned in print? Maybe when people no longer remember when we had papers?

  5. Dave,
    I’ve just discovered your ‘eulogy’ to the Connacht Tribune, for which – as editor of the said publication – I’m grateful and humbled!
    You have certainly lifted spirits here on a wet Monday morning in Galway.
    I’m also sorry to hear that you have difficulty in sourcing the paper in and around Birmingham and I will get on to our circulation people to find out why that is the case.
    If you want to contact me directly, you can do so via this email address – and we’ll see how we can take it from there.
    Thanks again for your kind words – it’s nice to know that someone thinks we’re doing something worthwhile.

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