Whilst it cannot be denied that the circulation of print publications is in decline, reports of the death of local newspapers are greatly exaggerated – as with national titles, whilst print circulation has fallen, online readership has gone up. In print, local papers are still read by 31 million people a week and 62 million unique users visit local newspaper websites every month.
The 1,100 local and regional newspapers with 1,600 websites who are the subjects of this readership play an invaluable role in fostering a sense of community, celebrating local achievements and highlighting local issues. They also hold local government to account, reporting on Council procedures even when no member of the public is present in the gallery.
They know their local areas in great depth and can utilise this to provide insight that is often called upon by their peers in the national press – witness, for example, how often a regional journalist will give local flavour to a story being covered by the national media. Similarly, journalists from local newspapers are usually the first on the ground whenever a big story breaks.
On a more light hearted note, local news outlets continue to provide an outlet for quirky stories that would not be published elsewhere – some of my personal favourites can be found here, here and best of all, here. Rather than a sad indictment on the state of local journalism as the naysayers would have you believe, I prefer to think of local press as a bastion of water cooler stories that would not run in a mainstream media that is all too obsessed with bad news.
In a post Leveson media landscape, the loss of local newspapers would be a great tragedy, and result in less scrutiny being placed upon those in positions of power who we trust to make decisions on our behalf. Freely distributed hand-outs from local authorities that heap praise upon their publisher and verge on propaganda are not adequate substitutes.
Fortunately, the value of local newspapers is recognised at the highest levels of government. Vince Cable praised their value in attracting Regional Growth Fund money at a conference earlier in the month, and Andrew Percy MP recently complimented the Scunthorpe Telegraph for its campaign for defibrillators to be installed in workplaces and schools. Even Queen Elizabeth herself has described them as “…a fundamental part of the fabric of our communities”. Well said, ma’am.