Demise of Local Newspaper – Demise of Trust?

Public perceptions are based on lack of trust
Public perceptions are based on lack of trust

Demise of Local Newspaper – Demise of Trust?

A number of years ago I represented the Prison Service in my capacity as the Head of Offender Management on a multi-organisation committee to consider how to implement the Respect Agenda.

More specifically we were looking at how to address the issues raised and which still remain around the fact that whatever politicians and the police say about falling numbers the ‘Fear of Crime’ still prevails in the majority of the population.

For those who may have forgotten this was a result of policies that came out of the Respect Task Force headed by Louise Casey who produced a Respect Action Plan in 2006.

In summary, the report advised that to reduce crime it had to be tackled early and that this could only be done by tackling the underlying causes of criminal activity including anti-social behaviour by early intervention.

One of the important factors was the early identification and intervention where problems occur and addressing the areas of poor behaviour would by reducing low levels of crime and antisocial behaviour increase the public perception of being safe.

So where does the Local Daily Newspaper come in?

What the Respect Task Force research revealed was that a major problem with the public perception of crime was not only their scepticism but that didn’t believe the Police and Politicians both Nationally and Locally when they said the streets were safe.

What the public had the most trust in according to the research was the Local Newspaper who they believe really spoke, and more importantly was in touch with the local population.

In effect of all of the organisations that people trusted most it was the Local Daily Newspaper and Editorial staff.

As a Councillor I certainly looked to the Local Newspaper to keep me abreast of the public perception of a whole range of issues and even when on the receiving end of a story never doubted that the reporting was fair and balanced.

Sometimes it was flattering and supportive and of course sometimes just the opposite which is part and parcel of being in the public eye.

When Johnston Press decided that the Northampton Chronicle and Echo were going to be published weekly instead of daily things began in my opinion to change.

I should say that I have no problem nor is this a criticism of the editorial staff of the Chronicle and Echo who under the constraints of only publishing weekly do what they can to reflect a flavour of what is happening in Northampton.

The problem is that they, even with the increase of the use of social media, can only reflect a flavour of what is happening rather than reporting on the details or investigating in-depth the issues affecting the town.

The change is reflected in the lack of in-depth investigations into a number of issues and conducts of those responsible that in the past as a daily Local Newspaper would certainly have been carried out.

Examples amongst which that immediately spring to mind being,

The proposed sale of the Sekhemka Statue and the reasons and falsehood made about it regarding the ownership and consultation.

The reason for the en-bloc resignation of the Delapre Abbey Preservation Trust and what it means in regard to the National Lottery Trust.

The lack of consultation on the opening up of Abington Street

The failure to attract new companies and employment opportunities into the Enterprise Zone.

The confusion around the position of the Borough Council regarding the proposed Rushden Lakes development.

The real situation around the lack of progress with the Grosvenor Centre redevelopment.

Who was really responsible and should take credit for the new bus station and railway station as well as a number of other major projects in the town.

Why has there been a sudden about turn on the Joint Core Strategy and move to relocate the proposed housing to the North of Northampton.

The role and cost of the Police and Crime Commissioner

The perception that Northampton is unsafe to visit against claims that crime is falling.

This of course is not an exhaustive list but what it has meant in my view is that the local newspaper has lost a very marked degree of influence and impact on its own independent investigative reporting relying instead on sound bites and press releases from political organisations.

In losing that influence and impact the Chronicle and Echo has now become no more than an advertising newspaper interspersed with press releases and sound bites from organisations with professional PR teams who are usually paid for by the taxpayer.

The trouble with a weekly newspaper, and I have discussed this with people who are experiencing the same thing up and down the country where the local daily paper has been replaced by a weekly one, is that trust in what is reported has diminished.

If the newspaper is increasingly reliant on information from PR teams and politicians sound bites that the public don’t trust then it is clear why the trust in local newspapers is falling.

I know of a number of people who no longer buy the Chronicle and Echo for the very reasons I have given.

It is a shame but I suppose as with on-line shopping the rise in social media will see an increased decline in local newspapers until their eventual demise.

Not every one of course has access to social media.

It seems to me that what the decline in local daily newspapers has really affected is one of the essential and important avenues of delivering trusted information to the public and as a consequence of democracy.

The inevitable result will be an increase in the public perception that the information being provided in the Local Newspaper should be treated the same as that by Government organisations and politicians and always taken with a very high measure of scepticism.

Or in other words,

“Don’t trust or believe a word they say without checking”