There was nowhere to hide for a local reporter: you were connected to your public, and that helped breed journalism that was fair and responsible. It was a clear illustration to me of the central role a local newspaper plays in the life of a community, and the decline of Britain’s local papers is something we should all take seriously.
There is no register of closures, or of downsizings, or of the transformation of paid-for titles into freesheets – the fate of the Neath Guardian – but those reported in the past month are merely the latest examples of a long-term trend.
Media groups all over the UK face pressure to drive down costs, and many local newspapers are simply dying. A respected media analyst told a committee of MPs not long ago that up to half of the UK’s local papers could close by 2014.
Such closures may not have the visible impact on a community of, say, the closure of a shop. But the gaps they leave are serious. The most obvious is the shortfall in the reporting of local affairs and politics, leading to a general disengagement with local politics, and dismal turnouts in regional elections. Public-spirited individuals are doing their bit, through websites, blogs, newsletters and the like, to make up this democratic deficit. But in many areas there is a big vacuum where reporting on local councils used to be, and in the worst cases this vacuum is taken up by councils themselves.
Journalism has a bad reputation at the moment, but we’ll miss it if it’s not there.
This article first appeared in The Independent
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