At a time when the “localism” drive by central and local government is making high quality reporting and comment vital, the regional press is in a sorry decline, a shadow of its former self.
Today the BBC reports that journalists at Archant Norfolk which publishes the Eastern Daily Press, the Norwich Evening News and a string of weeklies are to ballot on industrial action over plans to cut up to 20 jobs.
In Norfolk a pork pie maker and blogger invited a former Archant journalist to write on what is happening to her local papers. The guest blogger writes:
A few recent examples of the good work regional newspapers can do include the EDP’s campaigns to save RAF Marham, applying pressure for the A11 to be dualled and fighting for better broadband to bring inward investment to the county.
But it’s not just about the big campaigns, it’s also about the little things. If you’re setting up a new business, the chances are you want to advertise it in the papers and you may well benefit from editorial coverage as well.
If public bodies are making cuts (aren’t they all?) who’s going to tell you about it and who’s going to give you a voice to shout about it?
Who’s going to tell you about crime, both major and minor, on your doorstep? Who’s going to tell you about events in your neighbourhood?
Who’s going to highlight the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to help charities and the community?
Who’s going to tell you the quirky little stories that make you smile over your cornflakes?
This reflects what Roy Greenslade, media commentator, former editor and blogger wrote recently about a dispute at another newspaper group in another party of the country. Greenslade, who loves print and has ink in his blood, wrote:
The net is the future, print is not.
I am often described as a doom-monger, a facile criticism. My analysis of the decline of newspapers is based on figures going back 50 years. It is further informed by the accelerating decline since the rise of the internet.
I know there will be printed papers around for a long time. What concerns me is that journalists won’t be.
I want to see the growth of relationships between a skilled professional journalistic cadre and concerned citizens.
Like Roy, I love print. That is where I started my working life, the smell of hot metal in my nose. Now I see online as the future although newspapers will still be around after I have gone.
That relationship between paid journalists and concerned citizens is developing as was neatly demonstrated by one of Greenslade’s Guardian colleagues today.
Patrick Butler (@patrickjbutler), a writer on social affairs, tweeted:
Struck by quality and consistency of political blogs in Suffolk: @andrewga @IpswichSpy @onlygeek @DeardenPhillips
It is nice to be included and I could add more good Suffolk blogs, some of them overtly party-political and others not.
One reason why Butler is reading the Suffolk blogs is that things of national interest have been happening in the county, most of them related to the county council. He needs information and opinion and he is able to get it from blogs as well as traditional print sources.
A concern that many of us have is that the traditional print media in Suffolk has been cut to the bone and overworked journalists are clearly having difficulty in doing the job they would like to be doing, to meet the demands of the community
To some extent bloggers are starting to fill the gap and answer the thirst for information. One day last week when a big story broke Wordblog (only three months old in its present form) had a thousand visitors.
Whether Archant which also owns most papers in Suffolk, including the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star, will attempt to cut journalists here as well as in Norfolk I don’t know. It is difficult to see how they could as they have already cut to the bone.
In the meantime it is clear that online community journalism is strengthening with extremely local news sites developing and more bloggers coming on the scene.