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The importance of local newspapers

May, 2016

With bloggers, social media, fanzines and citizen reporters creating a wealth of content, is local journalism still necessary?

To mark Local Newspaper Week we asked senior representatives of Kent’s media groups why they value local papers and why their audiences should too.

Chris Britcher, editor at Kent on Sunday, which is owned by Archant, said: “Never has the ability to access news and information been so easy, and yet never has the need to have reliable, trusted articles, well written and well researched been so essential.

“Local Newspaper Week should remind us all that despite the challenges local media face – among them trying to monetise online content sufficiently while chasing print advertising in a highly competitive marketplace where former revenue bedrocks such as motors, property and jobs have all found new homes on dedicated online sites – it remains an essential service that should be cherished and would be sorely missed.”

Serving the community

Everyone we spoke to mentioned the word ‘community’. When we asked Twitter users if they thought it was important for local newspapers to survive, freelance journalist Iain McBride described them as ‘the lifeblood of local communities’. He also added they have an important role to play in holding the likes of councils and the police to account.

“Local journalism, when it’s done well, is something with the power to bring communities together,” said Rebecca Smith, former editor of the Thanet Gazette and now senior editor at Kent Regional News and Media, part of Trinity Mirror. “It’s something which provides a voice and a platform for people and issues which would otherwise not be heard.

“In a fast-changing world, local journalism is at the heart of readers’ communities and local journalists are able to really understand what is important – to celebrate and mourn, champion and, sometimes, criticise with a true understanding of the area they serve.”

Her views were echoed by Ian Carter, editorial director at the KM Group.

He said: “The KM Group's mission statement is ‘To make Kent a better place to live and work’ and that underpins everything we do.

“Of course we don’t shy away from reporting bad news, but all our editors strive to give a voice to the communities they serve – we have a proud record of campaigning on the issues that matter to people.

“People's lives are busier than ever, and the rise of social media means the landscape is very noisy, but I believe that makes it even more important that people can trust the information our journalists provide.”

Trustworthy source

Andrew Metcalf, director at Kent PR agency Maxim, commented: “The content of local newspapers, whether in print or online, remains the first port of call for many when it comes to local community news. Unlike Twitter and other social media platforms, local newspapers bring with them an authority, trustworthiness and on most occasions balanced reporting.

“However in today’s austere times, local newspapers have reviewed, and in most cases rewritten their business plans on a regular basis as advertising moves increasingly online. The challenge now is ensuring the editorial quality and production values are upheld, at the same time as maintaining circulation and turning a profit."

Changing habits

Twitter user and former local journalist Laura Archer commented: “I don't follow local news online but prefer to have a weekly round up to read at the weekend. Plus there are too many ads on local websites. In an age where we self-publish online and on social media, I think we lose a bit of that ‘five minutes of fame’ novelty that a paper brings.”

“Practically, local newspapers help to create good journalists of the future – what better place to get an overview and experience of all areas of news?”

Support for local journalism

At Maxim we are keen to support local journalism which is one of the reasons we created the Kent Press & Broadcast Awards, a scheme that recognises the achievements of the county’s media.

This year the awards ceremony will be hosted by journalist and broadcaster Cathy Newman, one of Channel 4 News’ studio presenters.

Stressing the value of local journalism, she said: “I started my journalistic career doing work experience on the North Devon Journal, so right from the start I had a keen awareness of the importance of local journalists in the media ecology.”

The value of quality content

Summing up the importance of local journalism, Chris Britcher added: “The local newspaper is that tangible critical friend of all our communities, celebrating the good and highlighting the bad; crafted by those who live in the local area and who care passionately about what they do.

“No one wants to read a collection of topped and tailed press releases, but quality content does not come cheap and nor should it. So keep picking up your local paper, keep telling traders you visit you saw their ad in their pages, and keep interacting with them.”

posted in: media relations,

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