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(Posted on 06/02/19)
The importance of a local press – Part Two
Once upon a time, reading the local weekly paper was your best way of finding out what was happening in your area. It was more area-specific than TV regional news programmes and more informative and ‘newsy’ than newsletters, pamphlets or other local parish magazines. If local press is struggling to find a readership in the digital age, all these print publications seems to have been partly replaced in some areas – particularly in rural and suburban – by ‘handbook’ type digests, that contain a mixture of adverts, tips and local news.
These handbooks are becoming an essential part of modern living, but they don’t contain news as such, nor reaction or discourse on current neighbourhood issues. One interesting facet of a local press is that it can highlight the gulf between what the local politicians and councillors think their local area wants and a letters page that reflects something entirely different. It’s interesting to compare and contrast local opinions in this way, to demonstrate how an area is shaped, not only to cater to the vision of the people who live there, but also the politicians’ and councillors’ concepts as well.
Local journalism is at its best when publicising local issues at local level. It’s great for raising the awareness of local charity causes, such as fundraisers or ongoing campaigns – even if the end result drives the reader to a ‘Just Giving’ donation page on the internet. Local businesses and tradespeople advertise, local events are publicised and it’s easy to see what’s going on right on your doorstep. Local services, such as post offices and libraries, benefit too from the ability to influence a local audience that may otherwise be out of reach. These too are becoming endangered or extinct in many areas. It’s narrow-minded to think that the target audience for a local press is made up entirely of elderly people, with local schools, churches and other organisations benefiting greatly from the publicity and prestige of appearing in the local papers.
In the same way, fewer people are watching television and TV advertising revenues are reducing, fewer people are reading papers and their advertising revenues are down also. Newspapers can’t find a way of internet news media paying the dividends print media does – a real product delivering a real result – but because local news is so niche, it’s becoming a casualty of its own ‘localness’. The internet is a great place to pick up local news at a glance – and is often much more up-to-date and current than print media. But it’s also far less regulated, and accuracy and impartiality aren’t always strong points. It’s difficult to see a time when local print media will dwindle entirely, but in some ways it’s up to us and our communities to help extend its longevity.