Tuesday 10 November 2009

'Why local papers are not worth saving'

George Monbiot in a scathing piece on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' damns local papers.
He writes: "Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain's most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is."
Monbiot says he was prompted to write his comment by the coverage of a proposed Tesco store in his home town of Machynlleth by the local paper, the Sir Ray Tindle-owned Cambrian Times. He claims the paper is taking an uncritical view of the local council's backing of the scheme and has run a "smear job" on a report that claims it will have a negative impact on existing traders in the Welsh town.
He claims: "This petty affair is a synecdoche for the state of local journalism. Most local papers exist to amplify the voices of their proprietors and advertisers and other powerful people with whom they wish to stay on good terms. In this respect they scarcely differ from most of the national media. But they also contribute to what in Mexico is called caciquismo: the entrenched power of local elites. This is the real threat to local democracy, not the crumpling of the media empires of arrogant millionaires."
Monbiot takes a swipe at Roy Greenslade's "Why local papers count" feature on his blog, which highlights good journalism in the local press.
"In six months he has managed to provide just one instance of real journalism: a report by the Kentish Express on the inflated costs of upgrading a local road. Otherwise he appears to have found no example of local papers holding power to account."
He concludes: "It's true that the vacuity and cowardice of the local papers has been exacerbated by consolidation, profit-seeking, the collapse of advertising revenues and a decline in readership. But even if they weren't subject to these pressures, they would still do more harm than good. Local papers defend the powerful because the powerful own and fund them."

1 comment:

Rich Simcox said...

I posted the following comment on this piece and have also emailed it to Monbiot:

George, the Newsquest title - News Shopper (www.newsshopper.co.uk) - I started my career on has a very good track record of holding authority to account - particularly its Bexley edition. This is largely due to the influence of Linda Piper, the Bexley chief reporter who has worked the patch for years and is very committed to the principles of local democracy and accountability. And trade unionism, I might add, which helps to ensure junior reporters are schooled in ethics as well as front page splashes.