Don't let's be beastly to the journos

Reader Oli sent us this News Shopper article, which reveals that the war on terror could have been averted, if only we’d listened to a Lewisham psychic. It’s an article that many of our friends in the hyperlocal blogging community have been frothing about on Twitter, suggesting it’s the death rattle of local newspapers.

Sure, it’s abject but it’s also incumbent upon hyper-local bloggers not to be too pleased with ourselves. Having written Brockley Central for three years, I’ve grown increasingly appreciative of the job done by local reporters and of the problems faced by local newspapers like The Mercury, the South London Press and the News Shopper.

The debate about the future of the newspaper industry is a bit like the ones we used to have at university, when we studied modern British industrial history. We came armed with a set of beliefs, inherited from school and from growing up in a period in which it seemed that the country’s infrastructure had been left to rot by successive Conservative governments: the City was short-sighted, choosing to invest in South American railways rather than our own, the quality of managers was poor, with UK business leaders being outmanoeuvred by Americans and Germans, who invested in newer, more efficient technologies.

Session-by-session our tutor dismantled all of our easy assumptions, showing how each decision was perfectly rational, even in hindsight, and that relative decline was largely inevitable. We were like the soldiers in Catch-22, arguing wit h the old man in Rome.

Likewise, bloggers carping about the myopic nature of newspaper businesses don’t have employees, shareholders or revenue to protect.

Perhaps the most rational course of action for these companies is to manage long-term decline, maximising profitability in the short-term.
Consumption of local news is moving inexorably online, starting with the youngest, wealthiest and best-educated people first. Eventually, everyone will be getting their news via screens, but the rump will take years to migrate – newspapers still reach much bigger audiences than blogs do. Until someone works out how to make money from the hyperlocal scene, blogs don't offer a sustainable and comprehensive alternative to newspapers.

Bloggers and local newspaper journalists must (and sometimes do) work together to make sure the important stuff gets reported, so there are fewer stories about psychics in future. Laughing at the slow death of the newspaper industry won’t help.


Darryl said...

Trouble was, though, the News Shopper made that stuff about the spiritualist its front page lead.

I think the Greenwich and Lewisham editions of the paper are identical, but this was in the same week plans were unveiled to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre, a slightly more important story which took the lead in the Greenwich edition of its rival, the Mercury.

Local paper journalists have a difficult job on a rubbish wage, but their bosses right don't help them with judgement calls like that.

Brockley Nick said...

totally agree.

Anonymous said...

Where I come from, the local paper costing 50p has been reduced to something resembling a pamphlet (still at 50p).

Sometimes you've just got to let things die. I haven't seen a single argument for print news that isn't based around nostalgia.

Tamsin said...

Do we need now to look out for a subtle murder and complicated alibi. I think it was one of the Midsomer Murder stories where an alibi turned on a photograph with a local paper - headline visible - and one of the villains in the piece was the paper's editor who could know in advance that the lead on the front page would be a story about a swarm of bees in the Council chamber.

She was caught out when someone became suspicious because a much more important story was the breaking news that a road development would seriously affect three villages.

J said...

Looking into my crystal ball I see local newspapers being replaced by a website where people rank articles submitted by amateurs and some professionals. Professionals will monetise what they do through endorsements, grants etc.

patrick1971 said...

I did laugh when I saw that story; how ludicrous for it to be front page news. Are the News Shopper and the Mercury rivals? I wasn't sure as I get both at varying intervals and they often seem to have virtually identical stories in them; wasn't sure if it was just a branding exercise for different areas and I happened to be in a border region!

Any more info on the plans to pedestrianise Greenwich town centre? Much needed IMHO.

G said...

Patrick, Shopper and Mercury are rivals. Mercury and SLP are the same company and often share content.

As for the issue Nick raises, I'm with Darryl. It's a hard job, overstretched on crap salaries. But regardless of that, this was an utterly daft decision by the news editor. It's made the Shopper look completely ridiculous, and it's a paper with few enough hard news stories and available pages as it is.

Anonymous said...

ITV claims it has problems funding local news and would seem local papers are being asked to provide the service.

Re local papers is the problem a significant fall in classified advertising?

People pay for a newspaper but currently think news should be free on the internet....somehow I think Rupert Murdoch thinks differently.

Anonymous said...

Re the News Shopper not long ago we had a newspaper editor staying at the house who flipped through the paper.

First thing he noticed was 90% of the articles were by one person, don't know if its changed since then.

Darryl said...

The News Shopper has two reporters working out of Petts Wood covering both Greenwich and Lewisham together. That's two people trying get everything in an area with a combined population of about 450,000 people. It's similar for the Mercury.

Coincidentally, the News Shopper's just started making proper use of its Twitter feed for the first time, which is a good sign.

As for Greenwich pedestrianisation - no more than what was in the "consultation". Greenwich Phantom's beaten me to doing something, I'll try to play catch-up in a day or to. It doesn't look a very well-thought-through scheme, though.

Anonymous said...

I highly recommend Flat Earth News by Nick Davies (see for a good romp through the slow death of print journalism. Little polemical at points, but it's good on the pressures on local and national journos. Some real eye-opening bits: eg I was surprised by how influential the Press Association is.

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