Claire Enders, Schrödinger's Cat and the death of local newspapers

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Schrödingers Cat Lite

There’s a weird triumphalism is the air this morning, as Hold The Front Page points out that Claire Enders’ famous prediction five years ago that half of the UK’s local newspapers would be dead by now:

Obtaining a precise figure for the number of local newspapers that have closed since the start of the recession in 2008 is not easy, but whatever the exact number, it is clear that her initial estimate of 650 has proved way off-beam.

Our own estimate, based on the stories we have covered on this site, is that there have been just over 100.

That’s not to say that we haven’t lost a lot more local newspaper journalists, as the survivors have brutally cut back… But the core argument is correct: the number of closure has not been as high as predicted.

The thing about predictions, though, is that they have something rather Schrödinger’s Cat about them. One of the points of that thought experiment is to explain that, in quantum physics, when you measure something, you change it. And to some extent, that’s what’s at work here. Enders’ predictions were based on the prevailing situation. Essentially: “if things stay the way they are, then we’ll lose half of our local newspapers”. Of course, things didn’t stay the way they were. As Paul Linford’s piece acknowledges:

Her comments, which were taken at face value by many in the business world, set the agenda for a prolonged period of introspection within the newspaper industry during which the defining media narrative about the local press became one of irreversible decline.

And so… people changed things. So, while her predictions didn’t come to pass, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t incredibly useful.

Image by Kent Wang and used under a Creative Commons licence

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.