Local newspapers have long teetered on the edge of survival, at risk of relegation to a picture postcard England past, where cub reporters cover village fetes, write the splash on local crime and all before tea time. So the announcement that local publisher Johnston Press is being bought out has triggered further analysis on the future for local news. Facebook has stepped up with a suspiciously well time announcement of £4.5m, to hire and train 80 people as community reporters. Johnston Press is reportedly one of three local publishers in conversation with the social media giant.
As a former local journalist, I trained on the job, penning crime news when the local PC came in with a list of jobs they were actively ‘investigating’, while local politics was learnt in the town hall covering lengthy council meetings. I was professionalised with formal training in Newcastle, one floor below editorial offices boasting one newspaper for the morning and another for the evening news. We were told to ask questions, be curious, polite and never accept ‘no comment’.
Twinned with considerable knowledge about ‘their patch’ local journalists are formidable opponents for any company or politician who finds themselves locked in their sights. The interview becomes a sustained grilling, where unrehearsed key messages struggle to be heard in the face of local campaigning. But local journalism is also a unique showcase for organisations to highlight achievements, securing valuable awareness and support. A site tour of new factories, interviews with staff who power a business toward a record year and the personal account of individuals whose campaigns effect positive change. As local newspapers face an uncertain future, we cannot afford to sleep walk into a situation where they are a story of the past.
Article by Jess Mangold