For the love of local...April 2012 by Jill Theobald
As a journalist who cut her ‘media’ teeth on a regional paper, the announcement last week that five local evening papers were switching to weekly publications left me anxiously grinding those teeth a little.
Worry over digital media heralding the death of - well, the local Herald is not new. Numerous regional newspapers have disappeared in recent years.
Johnston Press - who last week announced the Scarborough Evening News, Northampton Chronicle and Echo, Peterborough Evening Telegraph, Halifax Courier and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph were to re-launch as weeklies – have this week predicted 'few daily print products' will remain by 2020.
But how did I find out about all of the above? Online. More specifically, via Twitter.
The internet and social media platforms are invaluable in my day-to-day job in terms of monitoring both breaking and developing news stories. They are also hugely useful resources for picking up PR and communications tips and hints.
But while I enjoy engaging with people and picking up on stories and PR campaigns via digital media channels, I am also somewhat of a traditionalist. I love reading an actual newspaper or magazine – having the tangible product in my hands - and I’m not alone. The Observer recently ran a piece on magazine enthusiasts who spoke of their love of the “sensory element. Being able to physically curl up with it”.
You can’t really do that with an App.
My concerns for the local press are not purely selfish, though. What of those without computers or Smartphones who cannot simply access news on the go and at the touch of a button? The elderly resident who relies on their newspaper to keep them up-to-date on local goings-on or who sees an event publicised that gets them out of their house and involved in their community?
Regional papers also serve a key function of keeping an eye on the local council as well as reporting on crime and the justice system by way of court reports and news from the police force.
MP Louise Mensch this week called for a local newspaper subsidy, arguing: “Who else is going to hold your local MP or your local councillors to account? A vibrant local press is vital for the future of our democracy.”
Emphasising her love of social media – but stressing that “the internet is no substitute for good local reporting” - she has suggested regional newspapers could adopt a similar model of community ownership to that used by struggling football clubs.
“When we consider how many things receive national subsidies that only have a minority appeal,” says Ms Mensch, “surely local newspapers, at the heart of their towns and villages, deserve some of that government support as well.”
In theory, I support both her arguments and her aim - although it could equally be argued that a publicly funded newspaper in itself opens another debate about impartiality.
Either way, I’ll be keeping up to speed on developments – by checking the papers AND going online...