Local Newspaper – Sad Demise

Local Newspaper – Sad Demise

In 2014 I wrote an article expressing my dismay at the decline in the Local Daily Newspaper which resulted in a very interesting and I have to say sad and pathetic response from the then editor of the Northampton Chronicle and Echo that is printed by Johnston Press Plc.

The premise of my concern was a result of the Chronicle and Echo moving from being a daily to a weekly newspaper.

The background to all of this was that at the time I was a Local Councillor on Northampton Borough Council but also in my capacity as the Head of Offender Management I represented the Prison Service 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 Task Force headed by the highly respected Louise Casey who in 2006 produced a Respect Action Plan.

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 by early intervention.

It was argued that early identification and intervention where problems occur and addressing them would by reducing low levels of crime and antisocial behaviour increase the public perception of being safe.

Of course this was before we saw a reduction of over 25,000 front line police and drastic cuts in police funding.

So where you might ask does the Local Daily Newspaper come in?

It is that what the 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 then -as they don’t believe now – the Police and Politicians both Nationally and Locally when they said the perception was not the reality.

The research went on to say that what the public had the most trust in was the Local Newspaper who they believe really spoke, and more importantly was in touch with the local population.

In effect of all the organisations that people trusted most it was the Local Daily Newspaper, their reporters and their editorial staff.

As an elected 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 – and I was on the receiving end a number of times – I never doubted that the reporting was fair and unbiased.

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 in my opinion to began change.

I should say that I had no problem or criticism of the editorial staff of the Chronicle and Echo who under the constraints of only publishing weekly continued to do what they could to reflect a flavour of what was happening in Northampton.

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

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

I suppose for Northampton the greatest example where investigative reporting would and wasn’t carried out because of the reduction in reporters available to carry it out was into the issue around the loss of the £10.25 million loan by the Borough Council to Northampton Football Club.

Fortunately this issue was picked up and followed through by reporters working for the BBC.

There was a number of other issue that suffered including addressing the perception that Northampton was unsafe to visit against claims that crime was falling.

I would argue that this was not only an issue for Northampton and the Chronicle and Echo but also daily newspapers across the country who were reduced to being a weekly publication.

In my view – and of course feel free to disagree – what it has meant 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 they have 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 the trust in local newspapers will also fall.

It is a shame but I suppose as with on-line shopping and the rise in social media ww have seen an increased decline in local newspapers that will lead to their eventual demise.

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.

It brings to mind the saying – “Don’t trust or believe a word they say without checking” the problem is of course how do you “check” when the perception is that what you are checking is all from the same source that you don’t trust in the first place.