Local Press

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:54 am on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 11:54 am, 20th January 2009

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr. Kumar on securing this important and timely debate. Regional and local papers are facing exceptionally hard times. I intend to talk about York's local paper, The Press, but it is clear from other hon. Members' contributions that the problem affects local and regional papers the length and breadth of the country.

Last summer, The Press made 23 redundancies, including 4 journalists, which was a cut of more than 10 per cent. of the work force. Two years before that, nine journalists were made redundant. This month, The Press announced that it will no longer print in York and that, instead, it will print the paper some 40 miles away in Bradford. All the printers' jobs at York will go, although I hope that some of them will be able to transfer to Bradford—that is currently under negotiation between the management and the trade unions. This month, the posts of editor and managing director were combined, in a new post of managing editor.

At one time, The Press had a Lobby correspondent here in Parliament. I am deeply envious of the situation in Shropshire where such a post has been maintained. I know, Mr. Cummings, that we are not supposed to pass comment on who is listening to our debate, but one only has to look at the Press Gallery to see how lean the regional media's presence is at Parliament.

I do not want to cover ground that colleagues have covered, but the local and regional press face two enormous challenges: the economic downturn and the pressures of technological change. Twenty-seven years ago, when I ran a small, independent television production company that made programmes for Channel 4, or whoever would buy them, I introduced, for the first time in television, a telephone phone-in. I dread to think where that has led, and I am horrified to see rigged telephone polls and premium-rate calls being used to fleece viewers. Twenty-three years ago, when I was first selected as a Labour party candidate in York, The Press was printed by letter press by the hot metal process, but moved to offset litho and bought the new presses in its new works in Walmgate, which are sadly going to be scrapped, as I said.

Technology will not stop, and its advance cannot be wished away. I believe that we will still have printed newspapers in 20 years, but that there will be a rather different content. Electronic media by that time will be more user friendly and better for distributing news, but I believe that the Government need to support local printed newspapers through the transition. For instance, the state could, appropriately, invest in training.