I have just finished a very enjoyable and interesting week with my local newspaper, the News Shopper. As this was my second time with them, this year I was given a bit more responsibility, in terms of going out and finding stories.
But this blog is not about my experiences at the News Shopper. This blog is about the importance of local journalism. One of the first things you are taught when you start studying journalism is that local journalism and local papers aren't what they used to be. The money isn't there for local papers to employ as many journalists as they used to and because of this local journalism has become less about actual reporting and more about recycling press releases. This isn't because the new breed of local journalist doesn't care about proper reporting. It's just that when you are being told by the higher ups that you have to produce x amount of stories in a very short time then some things slip. That's just economics. Twenty people trying to do the job of thirty are always going to have a harder time.
This is a shame, I think, because it deprives a community of one of its greatest assets. A proper local paper will know the area it covers back to front. It will know all the shortcuts, all the people worth talking to, and its reach and contacts will be limitless. For example the News Shopper's patch also includes Woolwich. When Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered, they were among the first on the scene, and were able to cover the story in a way that has earned them congratulations from a lot of people. Other more famous news outlets were asking them for quotes, as they knew that they would know the details better than anyone else on the ground, bar the police.
Local newspapers can do more to inform a community about what's going on in their local area than possibly any other form of communication. And bigger news groups can also find a use for them. Sometimes - as in the case of the guy who escaped from Southend Crown Court - the local press, by benefit of being on the scene, is able to break stories before the big boys get there. They can be an unending source of useful and interesting stories.
Of course they have their flaws as well. In an attempt to cover their costs, they can often come off looking like they contain more adverts than news. But that's a minor disadvantage when compared to all of the major advantages that local papers have.
Lastly, by not buying local papers or reading them, or paying them any attention, we are depriving ourselves of not only a very useful source of information, but also a very, very, important part of our media heritage.
Local newspapers were where it all began, before the nationals arrived. Without them, we would not have the news as we know it today. And a world like that is unthinkable.