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.