The announcement today had all the positive spin of any such change. Richard Duxbury, the newish managing director of the Cambridge stable, said:
The new paid-for daily editions are great news for the local area. The Cambridge News is great product that is about to get even better.
Extensive research has gone into the new title’s design and content and it will mirror what’s important to the people who live in the communities we serve.”
The limited circulation information* available suggests that most of the weekly readers don't buy the daily, so what makes Duxbury think they will start doing so rather than switch to (or stick with) the rival papers produced by Archant?
*The Saffron Walden Weekly News had a circulation of just under 20,000, according to last year's ABC figures; the Cambridge News sold 18,500.
What does the editor think? Paul Brackley is apparently as excited as his boss:
We are looking forward to bringing our readers a bigger, brighter and better Cambridge News, featuring a fresh design and more content.
Daily editions of the title will enable us to reflect what is happening in our local communities, while the new sections will provide a focus for key areas of people’s lives in the region.
These are exciting improvements that will reaffirm the newspaper’s position as the voice of the community.
Will the weekly staff keep their jobs and, if so, will they continue to be based in their local towns? Will they work from home or hotdesk it in Cambridge?
Nigel Brookes, the editor of the Royston and Saffron Walden papers, sounds confident on the Royston website and Walden e-edition:
It is time for the Royston [Saffron Walden] Weekly News to move forward and having our own edition of the Cambridge News in September will give us a far better opportunity to keep our readers right up to date with the news. A dedicated Royston [Walden] website will also give us the chance to provide up-to-the-minute news. These new moves will also provide our loyal advertisers with a wider audience for their services and merchandise.
Saffron Walden and Royston each have populations of around 15,000. Take that up to 20 or even 25,000 with surrounding villages and we can see it's quite a challenge to come up with a lead story once a week, let alone every day.
Factor in that the area was last year named the second nicest place in the UK to live and you can imagine a tranquil rural community that won't generate the crime, poverty or racial issues of, say, Newham or the Liverpool suburbs.
Meanwhile, when will editors learn that brighter does not necessarily mean better? Local dailies have been describing themselves as "bright" for as long as I've been in journalism, but the truth is that people don't want their local paper to look like a poor man's redtop. Yes, there are excellent regional dailies out there that are every bit as smart in every respect as the nationals. But they are the exception. For the rest, straight, simple and accurate is the way to go.
I digress. The "vibrant" new-look Cambridge News will also, Local World promises, give readers a greater opportunity to get involved, contribute content and debate the issues that matter to them.
Contribute content? Ah, UGC. Naturally.
Local World is, of course, David Montgomery's outfit and he has spelt out his mission statement in detail (albeit in gobbledygook). It's a frightening document, but, as SubScribe has said before, at least he has a vision for the future of the local Press. The Cambridge paper was named regional newspaper of the year a couple of years back and in its Evening News incarnation had a strong reputation and some excellent editors, including Bob Satchwell and Colin Webb. If these changes reverse the decline in circulation and allow the paper to grow, it will be terrific.
If not, the Saffron Walden readers at least have somewhere to turn to for their weekly fix (even if is half the size and subbed in Norwich - but that's another story).