Monday 16 August 2010

The gap that's left when a local paper office closes

Poignant post and picture by Patrick Smith on his blog about the closure of the office of the Tameside Advertiser in Greater Manchester.
The Advertiser itself has not closed but staff have been moved to Manchester city centre along with other weeklies owned by MEN Media, now part of Trinity Mirror.
Patrick remembers being on work experience in the Advertiser office as an 18-year-old. He writes: "What instantly hit you then about that office – and about every local/regional newspaper operation I’ve seen or worked on – was the connection people felt towards the title. The sense of ownership created a strange mixture of pride and anger when reporters didn’t get something right or were chasing the 'wrong' story.
"The office front desk secretary would have to deal with queues of people with delivery problems; mothers and grandads asking for re-prints of pictures of smiling brothers and nieces who appeared in the news pages last week, or people with 'a cracking story' about fences or dogshit who demanded to see a reporter right now. All that is gone.
"The paper now runs 'surgeries' in Ashton once a week. But it pales in comparison to days when almost every one of Tameside’s nine towns had its own reporter, who cared about his or her patch and knew the people who knew what was going on."
Patrick is by no means a Luddite. In fact he is an evangelist for new media. He adds: "I’m a digital believer: I think the growth of online news publishing will eventually replace and maybe even improve on what local and regional news consumers currently enjoy – with added multimedia audio/video and an interactive, participatory element to newsgathering that has simply never been possible until now."
Patrick welcomes the way Trinity in Birmingham is taking part in a new hyperlocal intitiative with the best of the city's local online journalists but adds that while hyperlocal sites may be the future: "The present for the people of Ashton is a boarded up office, journalists based seven miles away and fewer of them being paid to care what happens to real people."
  • I think Patrick's blog reflects a comment on the local press in the Observer at the weekend by Peter Preston, who wrote: "A truly local paper is like a policeman on his beat (or that family doctor). It's what helps local life go around. It opens a world of possibilities. And – golly! – it's more important than 30% profit margins. Or, at least, it damned well should be."

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