About Exeter Observer

Legacy local news

The rise of the Silicon Valley giants has had major impacts on UK news publishers. Revenues have plunged, thousands of jobs have gone and public interest journalism has been particularly adversely affected.

Academic studies have demonstrated a clear link between this decline and falling community engagement with local democracy (such as voter turnout) as well as negative impacts on the accountability of local institutions and public finance management.

Other studies have shown that trust in news has declined alongside trust in other civic institutions.

Large traditional news publishers, struggling under the weight of pension fund and debt liabilities, corporate ownership structures and an inability to innovate, have failed to create new business models to support the continuing supply of these essential public goods at local level.

Just four publishers now control 80% of the UK’s local and regional titles. Consolidation has had damaging consequences:

  • Since 1985, more local public interest news articles have come from managed media sources than reporters attending council or public meetings – since 1995, less than 10%.
  • More than half of UK parliamentary constituencies and nearly two thirds of UK local authority districts are no longer served by a daily local newspaper.
  • 96% of local authority districts have only one, dominant local newspaper publisher.

Reach plc (called was Trinity Mirror until May 2018) has been the UK’s largest regional news publisher since October 2015. Since then it has embarked on further consolidation, rolling multiple local titles into single regional delivery platforms while cutting editorial staff.

The company was in financial trouble long before the pandemic: losses/writedowns were £108 million in 2018 and £200 million in 2019. It sacked 12% of its workforce in 2020 and its shares fell 25% last year after costs soared. It announced another 200 redundancies in January and its shares lost a fifth of their value after another profit warning.

“We need institutions that have the ability, both financially and culturally, to bring news that other institutions and individuals cannot.”

Carl Bernstein, Washington Post Watergate reporter

Devon media in perspective

Reach dominates Devon news coverage, with just a handful of Tindle and (ex-Archant) Newsquest titles found in satellite towns and a smattering of marketing glossies packed with adverts and advertorial.

The company is also redeploying hundreds of reporters from regional to national content production as it seeks to maximise online traffic by publishing national news stories on its regional websites. It employs clickbait headlines intended to generate as many page views as possible driven by targets imposed on individual journalists who have been described as “battery hens”.

Devon Live (which combines seven local print titles) claims two million monthly page views, but only 10% of its readers are located in the ITV South West region. Exeter constitutes just 6% of this population – equating to just 12,000 monthly page views.

The closure of the company’s Exeter offices means it now relies almost entirely on covering the city from its regional office in Plymouth, while content policies are remotely determined by the financial priorities of a conglomerate which owns more than 250 regional and national titles.

Exeter Express & Echo, its legacy local print title, is now published only once a week. ABC-accredited figures show its circulation fell 55% from 11,700 copies in 2017 to 5,278 in 2021 – including its East Devon edition.

Meanwhile the company’s shareholders received a £14 million half-yearly dividend and its CEO and CFO both received 700% pay increases which raised their combined 2020-21 remuneration to £7.4 million.

This publishing model, which is both reductive and destructive, is driven by digital platform algorithms and their effects on advertising revenue returns. It incentivises the stimulation of vicarious interest and the production of ephemeral articles that rarely represent the public interest or even cover local issues at all.

It cannot support serious reporting and analysis of public policy and decision-making that affects Exeter and the wider region, with the consequence that local people are significantly less well-informed about important issues that affect them, their families and friends and the communities in which they live and work.

“News organisations that deploy resources to really gather information are essential to a functioning democracy. It just doesn’t work if people don’t know.”

Bill Keller, New York Times editor 2003-2011

A local fourth estate

The complex, multifaceted, deliberative culture that surrounds national policy- and decision-making cannot be replicated at local level, where many fewer actors are in play, local government lacks capacity and the consultancy firms on which it relies will not bite the hand that feeds them.

An effective local fourth estate can compensate for these limitations by fulfilling several important functions, representing multiple perspectives for multiple audiences, offering critical appraisal of policy options and decisions and enhancing accountability by providing rigorous scrutiny.

However audience-oriented publishing business models are not, alone, sufficient to produce public interest journalism: like algorithmic incentives they can also stimulate echo chamber effects.

At the same time political contexts vary across spatial geographies, so a generic approach cannot deal with important detail.

In addition, the public interest is not objectively defined but must instead be determined on a case-by-case basis by actors with the necessary expertise and independence to make considered, responsible judgements.

Regional media publishing hubs that rely on churnalism and cheerleading often simply amplify content marketing, public relations puff and local government media releases, which are themselves routinely more marketing message than public information.

Only publishers with the operational capacity for editorial independence can produce and distribute journalism in the public interest which fulfils the role of the fourth estate at local level.

More about Exeter Observer

Exeter Observer is published by Exeter Observer Limited, Community Benefit Society No. 8435 registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014.

Our registered address is St Sidwell’s Community Centre, Sidwell Street, Exeter EX4 6NN.

Exeter in brief
Exeter in brief

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

Royal College of Nursing staff at the ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST have resumed strike action alongside South Western Ambulance Service workers as healthcare professionals across the country stage the biggest strike in NHS history.

Detailed plans for the Honiton Road MOOR EXCHANGE RETAIL PARK have been submitted for approval. Outline planning permission for the development was granted two years ago.

The police inspectorate says DEVON AND CORNWALL POLICE must make urgent improvements after it was found to be inadequate in three of nine areas including responding to emergency and non-emergency calls and managing registered sexual and violent offenders.
Its assessment found two other areas required improvement while two more were graded “good”. A new chief constable was appointed in December after the force was placed under enhanced inspectorate monitoring last year.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is consulting on its draft Exeter Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, which is already nearly six years late, until the end of March.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER staff have resumed strike action over pay, pensions and working conditions alongside Exeter school teaching staff with dozens more strike days planned during February and March.

EXETER CITY FUTURES published the agenda for its last board meeting on 30 January, two months after the meeting was held. It says it is “committed to being completely transparent and open about the things that are discussed at board meetings”. No minutes were included.

DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL is not making sufficient progress with its children’s services since they were judged inadequate in January 2020 according to the latest Ofsted monitoring report which found that key areas still require significant change and serious issues remain.

The UNIVERSITY OF EXETER has submitted detailed plans for its 1,700 bed West Park redevelopment of 50,000m2 of student accommodation.

News
Exeter empty and second homes by council tax band October 2022 bar chart

PLANNING & PLACE

Exeter has more empty and second homes than built in city in past two years

Council tax premium proposals that aim to raise additional revenue from underused housing stock might also encourage return to residential occupancy.

University of Exeter students based at Streatham & St Luke's campuses 2021-22 & 2022-23 table

PLANNING & PLACE

30,000 students based at Exeter university campuses in 2022-23

Freedom of information request reveals significant drop on last year with postgraduate students accounting for 58% of fall in numbers.

Devon County Council headquarters at County Hall

DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Underperforming county council children's services to receive nearly half of proposed spending increases

Details of simultaneous £50 million 2023-24 spending reductions not yet published as finance director cites service delivery "re-prioritisation".

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Lottery graphic

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Council lottery operator to take cut from local charitable donations

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Exeter Development Fund workshop presentation October 2021

DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter City Futures falsely claims development fund documents disclosed under FOI legislation

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Exeter City Council 2020-21 external audit report cover

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Missing business plan, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest among senior council directors prompt board resignations and governance review at council-owned and funded company.

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Comment
Co-living - discover a new way to rent

PLANNING & PLACE

Council development levy changes are insufficiently evidenced and don't meet city infrastructure needs

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Exeter city centre retail area map 2017 and 2022 CDRC data

CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Is the grass really greener in Exeter city centre?

Academic research placing Exeter retail area at top of green space table was nationally reported, locally misrepresented then repurposed as booster fuel by local politicians overlooking study's social justice focus.

Exeter City Council outline draft local plan site allocations crop

PLANNING & PLACE

Will council seek investment zone status for Liveable Exeter sites?

Government growth plans combine tax breaks with planning deregulation, putting affordable housing provision and environmental protections at risk with little evidence that promised investment zone benefits would result.

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On our radar
All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S   EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY EXETER TRANSPORT STRATEGY   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK RIVERSIDE VALLEY PARK   ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER  

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