Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has written to the president of the Newspaper Society to reinforce his support of the regional Press and to clarify that recent comments were “not focused on local newspapers”.

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The Lib Dem leader told his party’s annual conference that he doubted the long-term viability of traditional newspapers and said falling circulation figures had led to the industry acting like “desperate animals around a disappearing waterhole”.

The comments provoked a defence of the regional newspaper industry from Adrian Jeakings, who is chief executive of the EDP’s publisher Archant and president of the Newspaper Society, representing 1,100 regional and local titles across the country. Mr Jeakings wrote to Mr Clegg (pictured below) questioning his “highly damaging and generalised remarks” and outlining the reasons for his own optimism in his industry’s future.

The deputy prime minister’s written response explains that his comments were made during a debate about the national Leveson Inquiry, and not directed at local newspapers – a point he also made to EDP reporter Dan Grimmer when they met in north Norfolk earlier this month.

His letter says: “I made a number of comments about the challenges faced by the national newspaper industry. I am happy to clarify that my remarks were not focused on local newspapers.

“In fact, I stand by my comments to the Newspaper Conference last year, that local newspapers and news organisations have every reason to be optimistic about the future. I was also asked about this issue this very week [October 9] when interviewed by the Eastern Daily Press, and so am on recent record in my admiration for local and regional media.”

Mr Jeakings said: “I am delighted that Nick has clarified his comments, expressing his continuing support for local and regional media. He clearly recognises the vital role that local newspapers play in the communities that they serve and the trust placed in them by their readers.”

Mr Jeakings’ original letter says although local newspapers had, like most other industries, been hit hard by the recession, advertising revenues are forecast to return to modest growth next year and online audience numbers continued to rise.

Mr Clegg’s response says: “From my own experience as an MP in Sheffield, it is clear that people continue to have a huge hunger for local news and commentary – and a great deal of trust in their local newspapers. The statistics you quote paint the same picture.”

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