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As MEN scales back business coverage, what now for the local press?

In a world of 24-hour rolling news where stories are broken on Twitter, reported, shared and re-reported before you go to bed, it is easy to be cynical about the role of local business reporting in today's world.

Cutbacks loom at the MEN

This week it was reported that the Manchester Evening News is to close its business desk, once considered core to the title's success. The wisdom of this move will be seen over the coming months. But, before you resign the local paper to the annals of history, take a minute to think about the importance of local reporting.

Local reporting gives local businesses a platform to reach out to their markets. It often champions the issues of readers and provides a valueable conduit to the national media, as stories are picked up and reported.

Where will businesses outside the FTSE 100 and the M25 have a voice when local papers are gone? National media continue to pull back on their regional resource and even the BBC is looking at a more centralised delivery of news.

Marketing dogma would suggest that every business is able to become a self-publishing, content marketing engine that attracts an engaged audience to serve as a pool of prospective customers. It doesn't happen like that in the real world. Small businesses often lack the resources to plan and sustain a content led digital campaign.

There is no easy solution to this problem. Companies have shifted spend to digital platforms and many traditional media brands have failed to commercialise their digital offers. There are notable exceptions, such as thebusinessdesk.com, which has grown through tough times.

Northcliffe recently launched its Local World offer, with the stated intent to 'reinvigorate local media'. It will be interesting to see if the new chief executive, Steve Auckland, can repeat the success he enjoyed at Metro.

Local daily and weekly media titles have levels of brand awareness and passive loyalty that most start-ups envy. Most people would hate to see their local paper go but haven't bought one in years or, more importantly, spent any advertising budget. The challenge must be to engage a lapsed audience with the right content on a range of media.

I don't have the magic bullet for local media, if I did I would sell it to Steve Auckland, but we can only hope that local media brands find a commercial model that allows them to maintain the high quality journalism required to build an audience.

Nathan Lane is the director of PR and brand narration agency Campfire PR

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