The Guardian: ‘Communities Must Fight for Local Journalism’

The Guardian has highlighted the importance of local journalism and “case for optimism” for a sustainable future for the sector in an article containing interviews with local media journalists, including Local Democracy Reporters.

The in-depth article discusses the challenges that the local media industry faces and summarises the vital role of local media: “A local newspaper, at its best, reflects the place in which you live in all its minute complexity – its celebrations and its commiserations and its incarcerations; it not only holds powerful local figures to account, it shapes shared feelings of hope and of anger and helps to piece together the serial story of where you are.”

Covering the challenges the industry faces, the article notes that the Cairncross review recommended an “urgent investigation by the competition regulator into the dominance of the advertising market by Facebook and Google.” The review concluded “that those elements that gave local news its storytelling bite and purpose became largely unaffordable,” The Guardian said. 

In the piece, the winner of the Society of Editors’ young journalist of the year, Aamir Mohammed from Wales Online, spoke of his determination to cover under reported groups and communities. He produced features about the drug spice where he interviewed users and spent time at Cardiff medical centres which handed out methadone, as well as joining a suicide chatroom, following the suicide of local man.

Mr Mohammed said: “Those are important stories to be told, so you’ve got to keep telling yourself: don’t get caught up. Keep a clear mind. It’s your job…I really like representing underrepresented communities. Even though the pressure to get big stories is tough, that’s what really drives me.”

Bristol Post’s Local Democracy Reporter, Amanda Cameron, summarised her role: “My priority is holding power to account locally, and it’s such an important time to be doing this. People have got so inured to austerity in many ways. It’s not a headline any more. It should be.” 

Norwich based Archant investigations editor, Tom Bristow, said: “There’s got to be something there to let people know what the council and the police are up to, and to name and shame criminals as they go through the courts.” And noted that without well-resourced, regional journalism “local power would not be held to account across the country.”

The content editor at the Local Democracy Reporting service in the Midlands, Annette Belcher from Birmingham Live, discussed the publication’s success with #BrumFeeds campaign to increases resources for local foodbanks as well as the changing nature of the industry.

Ms Belcher said: “Local journalism is a changing landscape, and very different from the days of print. But with online platforms we’re able to get even more information out there, cover stories in greater depth and better serve our communities, which is what local journalism is all about.”

“People really feel that they have a voice. When national titles have come and gone, we’ll still have that place within local communities. We have longevity because we’ve built up loyalty with them.”

The article also covered Jennifer Williams’ Hidden Homeless investigation for the Manchester Evening News where she discovered councils were placing people in derelict housing and revealed how the deaths of homeless people were not being properly recorded.  

“Holding power to account and keeping on top of that for your readers is so important – and there’s an appetite to hear more than that now,” said Ms Williams.

The Hidden Homelessness investigation saw an emergency review announced, with Mayor Andy Burnham promised to buy up slum properties, and the Office of National Statistics started recording the deaths of the homeless.