THE good news is that the Lancashire Telegraph is still with us – with close on 90,000 readers, or getting on for [one in three] of the adults who live in the circulation area.

But it’s no secret that all sections of the newspaper industry, from the smallest weekly to the mass-market “redtops” like The Sun (which sells almost three million copies a day) are facing an increasingly difficult market.

The circulation of national newspapers has gone down by around 12 per cent in the last five years; though the precise situation for regional and local papers is more patchy, overall there’s been a decline, with one local newspaper group ceasing publication of 44 titles.

Part of this decline can be attributed to the severe economic downturn.

Regional and local papers especially rely heavily on advertising houses and cars – the two items which have seen a greater collapse in sales in the past year than any other area of the economy.

And the jobs market – the other mainstay of classified advertising – hasn’t fared much better.

But a major part of the problem is a long-term one – the internet.

Just as I like reading proper books, as opposed to ephemeral images on a screen, so I love the feel of the printed newspaper page, the different type faces, the imagination – and judgements – used in layouts, the permanence of what’s produced.

In my opinion there’s no substitute for that. But my view is no longer the universal one it once was.

Ten years ago on the London Underground almost everyone in the rush hours would be reading a newspaper.

Now it’s a minority reading any paper at all – most have their iPods going, and maybe reading a novel.

And just as downloading of music is now far more common especially for the young than purchasing CDs, so the younger you are the more likely you are to get your news from a website – of which the BBC’s is by far the most frequently visited.

The internet is here to stay; and we could just resign ourselves to its consequences, bad and good, and wash our hands of any intervention in what some see as “natural” market forces.

Were we to do that, however, we could see a demise not just of many local and regional papers but also of regional independent TV, to leave the BBC in an unhealthily dominant position as the primary provider of news. We can’t let that happen.

After all, the BBC is not a creature of the “free market” but the exact opposite, of deliberate state intervention.

It is a great institution, probably the best and most respected broadcaster in the world.

But that deserved reputation cannot blind us to unbalanced situation which now exists, with the BBC, with huge taxpayer based resources over-dominant especially in regional and local news.

Hence Tuesday’s announcement as part of the “Digital Britain” policy announced by the Government.

Under this, a very small part of the £142.50 licence fee will be made available to the independent TV broadcasters like Granada to maintain a regional news coverage, and the regulations which restrict owners of regional and local papers from owning radio and TV stations will be relaxed.

The BBC are kicking up about this.

But it’s a small price to ensure we continue to have viable paid-for newspapers, and competition in broadcast regional news.