Media24 recently presented the findings from research conducted using their Forum24 online panel, drawing on fieldwork from 1-28 June 2021[i]. The results confirm a high level of trust and engagement with local newspapers and demonstrate the power of advertising locally. For many reasons, one of them because an overwhelming 98% of readers are purchase decision-makers.
Local newspapers are deeply rooted in their communities. Their reporters are actively involved community members, who not only live and work in these neighbourhoods – and so know which issues are most relevant – they also get involved in local events. Some of the activities undertaken by staff have included helping out by painting buildings, making special sleeping bags out of newsprint for the homeless, and working in soup kitchens. With the onset of social distancing guidelines they switched to contributions such as knitting blankets for Mandela Day and packing soup packs for families.
Beyond this, their journalistic function is to provide hyperlocal information that affects the daily lives of those in their communities – such as holding the municipalities to account, reporting crime, and sharing the achievements and challenges facing individuals and organisations. They give these communities, and their inhabitants, a voice. “We tell the stories that give hope, especially now with the Covid pandemic,” says Thulani Magazi, Editor of People's Post and City Vision. “It is critical to publish articles that talk of the people’s challenges and triumphs. It is also important to educate people about facts and fictions about the pandemic.”
As EP Media Publisher and Regional Editor, Bettie Giliomee-Rossouw says, “We don’t need to be sensationalist to sell newspapers. But because we are free, we need to ensure that people don’t regard being free as being of less value than sold titles. Our integrity is non-negotiable and we abide by the Code of Ethics and Conduct of the Press Council as well as our own code of conduct.”
All of this translates to a high level of trust and engagement when it comes to local papers, as Media24’s most recent research shows. Most respondents (84%) read their local paper thoroughly, spending on average an hour to do so (27% spend even longer). Also, they keep the paper for around five days, and share it with three other people. They consider the papers “relevant, trustworthy, credible, informative and useful”.
This is an important finding. Consumption of social media keeps on growing, but while it may keep people connected, it has also made it very difficult to differentiate between what is true and what is made up. As a result, rather than leading to the predicted demise of newspapers, the rise of social media has highlighted the need for quality journalism delivered by trustworthy brands – whether in print or on social media – as a reliable source of information.
And never more so than during the current pandemic, when many people have looked to their local papers for information. Of the respondents, 94% agree that information about Covid-19 provided in local papers is credible, while 90% say that local papers have helped them through Covid-19. The pandemic may well have led to a closer relationship between readers and their local paper, as much of the research demonstrates. During hard lockdowns, the number of page views and unique browsers rose significantly as Media24 readers went online to get their local news.
Now more than ever, advertisers are keeping a close eye on return on investment, especially following business losses due to Covid-19 and the recent unrest. And local papers deliver: Media24 local papers reach 4.1m estimated weekly readers, who, as we have seen, engage closely with the paper.
Add to this, that rather than being seen as intrusive or annoying, advertising specials and promotions are an integral part of what readers want from a local paper: The survey found that advertising specials and promotions were the fourth most popular topic (47%) readers were interested in, after information about jobs (58%), municipal and local government news (52%), and crime and policing (48%). In the current climate, readers are on the lookout for savings and special offers – for this, they turn to their local paper. 85% of readers still want their inserts in the paper and not loose in the post-box, and 83% read these all the time, even if they’re not looking for anything in particular.
Readers are purchasing decision-makers, who take action
Moreover, the people who read the local newspaper are overwhelmingly (98%) purchasing decision-makers – a finding that General Manager of Local News, Esmé Smit describes as “the greatest story of the research”.
“We also know that saving remains king, especially in times of rebuilding and economic turmoil,” she says. “Brands that advertise their promotions, win readers’ wallets.”
This is supported by the finding that once they’ve finished reading, 97% respondents report taking action:
Proving that advertising in local papers reaches purchasing decision-makers who are actively looking for sales and promotions, and for whom the newspaper is a trusted source of useful information. Many local businesses have benefited from this over the years.
Increasingly, this activity is moving online: local newspaper online readership has grown month to month in double digits. In tandem, their advertising teams are constantly evolving their offering, so that it now includes social media (some 750 000 social media followers engage with Media24’s local news brands daily), live events, online geo-targeted campaigns – and more recently, digitorials and electronic inserts. This comes with a high degree of flexibility, as advertisers can work closely with newspaper teams to build a unique, standout campaign.
“No other medium now, can deliver quality, hyperlocal news content relevant to this audience, the way local titles do,” says General Manager of Media24 Advertising Sales, Tasmia Ismail. “For existing or new brands entering a market, building trust, loyalty and brand equity is key. It is everything local newspapers (especially M24’s) stand for and live by – ensuring that supporting businesses thrive and grow with them.”
[i] 18,212 Forum24 members were invited to take part, with 2,811 answering – of which 2,174 qualified as local newspaper readers. A spread of ages and incomes ensured the sample was representative with a female skew, typical to local papers’ research. Moreover, respondents were screened, so that only readers of Media24 titles qualified, thereby providing rich powerful data for specific regions and titles.