I've never wished to be particularly down on one paper, so apologies to the paper of my hometown, the Express and Echo, but because I probably visit their website more than most, they probably get a lot of criticism. And a couple of days ago they provided another example of why local newspapers are in all sorts of trouble. On Tuesday, Exeter City met Plymouth Argyle in their first competitive meeting in eight years. Not the most significant fixture in a busy evening of football, but in local sport terms this was as big as it's likely to get.
Exeter ended up defeating Argyle 2-1 with a dramatic late winner and, like any other exiled Grecian, I spent much of the immediate aftermath reading forums, Tweeting, on Facebook and even on the phone.
I've long since given up on expecting any kind of immediate update on the Echo's website, so didn't bother checking it after the game, but the next morning I checked. Nothing. The lead football story was how the club's back-up goalkeeper was hoping to establish himself with a run in the team.
At 11am the next day, a full 13 and a half hours after the game had been played, the match report finally made it to the site. I only found out through an unofficial Exeter City Twitter feed that aggregates City content from all over the web that the report was up.
By that time, the story had moved on massively to the violence in the aftermath of the game, the reaction to the violence from both clubs, and the team looking ahead to the weekend's game. Anybody with access to the internet could have already read match reports and reaction on the official site, the Western Morning News, the BBC, Facebook conversations and on the unofficial forum, Exeweb. There was no need to read a now out-of-date report at 11am.
The only people who, realistically, would have any cause to buy the paper would be people who didn't have access to the internet, hadn't been at the game, hadn't listened to it on the radio, and hadn't phoned a friend at the game for a match report. I can't imagine this number being particularly high.
Sport is a fast-moving commodity that can deliver very good hits if the timing of publication and the SEO is any good. A report over twelve hours after the game had been played - when this was easily a huge sporting story - on a major media outlet fails in just about every sense.
Increasingly, sports fans, with their own community, don't need their local papers for sport, if the effort put in doesn't result in a compelling offering. The huge saturation in sports coverage coupled with advances in social media, and the good old-fashioned forums, mean local papers are increasingly becoming irrelevant on an area they should have sown up, given their exclusive access.
At the moment, it feels like the Echo's site has regressed (and I'd imagine they've had budget cuts) and is an afterthought. They will bring in no new readers through the web, as internet savvy news junkies will already have the news from elsewhere. The readership of their print paper is declining. This does not bode well for their future.
(And I don't say this with any pleasure at all. I would be genuinely sad if the area lost its paper. Even an out of date paper is better than no paper.)