Three-D Issue 23: The future of local news

94655Alec Charles
University of Chester

On 5 November Chester’s Department of Media hosted a major symposium on the future of British journalism.

The day-long conference discussed the future of local and regional newspapers in the current economic and regulatory environment, with particular reference to the ongoing changes in the news industry following the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report on the conduct and practices of the British press.

The event, organized by Chester’s Dr Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova, was sponsored by the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association as part of the MeCCSA Policy Network, and featured guest speakers from all over the country, including representatives of the Society of Editors, IPSO, the Carnegie UK Trust and the BBC Trust.

Anthony Longden from the Society of Editors opened the conference by reminding the audience of students, lecturers and industry guests, that “it is sometimes easy to forget the sheer power and reach of local newspapers.”

Professor Chris Frost from Liverpool John Moores University pointed out that “the pressures on journalists are very real in almost every newsroom.” Peter Devine from Messenger Newspapers also spoke of the pressures upon journalists and emphasized that students aspiring to careers in journalism will need a profound passion for the profession: “You’ll have a great career, a great life and you’ll love every minute of it. But if you don’t love it, don’t do it.”

Keith Perch from the Independent Press Standards Organization (the newly established press watchdog) argued that although “the Leveson report was quite optimistic about what local newspapers do” the current economic environment meant that many papers were no longer “doing things properly.” He pointed out that the main difference between the old Press Complaints Commission and his new organization was that IPSO had “the ability to investigate rather than simply looking at complaints” and expressed his belief that “IPSO will be proactive.”

Dr James Morrison from Kingston University spoke of a common fear amongst journalists that “one outcome of the Leveson report would be to encumber day-to-day reporting” but argued that he did not “think that local papers doing their job diligently have too much to fear.”

Professor Mick Temple from Staffordshire University pointed out that many “local newspapers are dying” because “the young are deserting printed newspapers in droves.” He argued that “the world does not need local newspapers – but what it does need is local journalism.” He concluded by suggesting that collaborations with local bloggers may offer important opportunities for local newspapers: “citizen journalism is clearly a future for local newspapers and local journalism.”

Dr Simon Roberts from the University of Chester also spoke of the ways in which social media might “plug the gaps in the mainstream media” and suggested that “web fora have a tradition of replacing local newspapers.” Tor Clark from De Montfort University similarly argued that although “changing social habits have squeezed the time people have to enjoy local newspapers” he could see positive possibilities in a popular collaborative future for local news: “my favourite option is for communities to take over their local newspapers once again.”

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Lauren Pennycook from the Carnegie UK Trust described how her own organization was supporting this process, by funding and advising such citizen journalist platforms in the interests of promoting local democracy: “local news websites have carved out a vital role.” As Professor Chris Frost said, “we have a better opportunity to have a real public sphere now than we’ve ever had before.”

This was an exciting and vibrant event – and a brilliant opportunity for our students to take part in these crucial arguments. It was great to see academic and industry figures coming together to discuss these important issues – and to hear how these developing ideas will continue to inform key industry debates.

Posted by Auguste Janutaite