The Guardian’s Charles Arthur has an interesting post about the financial pressures on news outlets. Traditional media has been under pressure from online for some time, and both are now under pressure from sagging advertising revenues courtesy of the recession.
The third problem is that, as he puts it, “There’s a huge oversupply of news, and the internet is making it trivial for people to read content that has been produced anywhere.”
He quotes good evidence to backup this oversupply thesis, but what’s interesting – to me – is that whilst part of my media consumption experiences would agree with that view, the other part wouldn’t. Yes, there’s a huge excess of political commentary, for example, and you can read an awful lot of high quality – and not so high quality! – commentary for free online.
But then there’s a whole host of areas where there is very little reporting or commentary. Local councils are the classic example – frequently the local media barely report them, and even in those areas blessed with both high readership local newspapers and newspapers which cover the council in some detail, it’s often only one title – and so the coverage is very much in the whim of the editor or owner. It may mean they are always anti one particular party, or it may be that they are always anti the council. But whatever – the point is that you get a very skewed sort of news because there’s no rival and just one editorial/owner direction imposed. (See Mark Pack’s piece on Lib Dem Voice for the example of the Evening Standard changing its coverage of London Mayor Boris Johnson when the editor changed.)
If you take my own home patch of Haringey – it’s been a council with more than its fair share of scandals and tragedies over the years, but it’s also been exceptionally rare for any of the local newspapers to have broken news based on investigative reporting. I don’t blame the journalists generally – I know how many words have to be written in how few hours – but in the case of Baby P it was largely only when the case went national, bringing in national news organisations, that journalists started shedding the light on all sorts of things. Or look at my old stomping ground of the London Assembly – and look at the huge budgets and responsibilities of the London Mayor, and then how few journalists cover it in any detail (Tim Donovan, Dave Hill, Hélène Mulholland, and … not many others).
So – yes, there is a news glut. But also – there is a real paucity of much news too. Now if someone can make a business model out of that local reporting…
You wonder why it’s rare for local newspapers to break news based on investigative reporting? Because it takes so much time and dedication, and experience. Local papers pressure their staff to turn stuff around quickly. Journalists on the nationals have more time – sort of – and they hunt in packs (often). And they’re usually much more experienced than those on local papers, even if the territory is unfamiliar.Local journalists can and do excel: look at the coverage of the Rhys Jones shooting, where the local reporters knew a lot of the background but of course couldn’t print it.You want to know what would help local journalists? Obliging local councils and organisations to publish what they do. Free up the crime data (not just those pathetic maps which don’t tell us anything useful), expense accounts, no more secrecy for MPs’, councillors’, civil servants’, local administrators’ work: that would be a start. Commit the Lib Dems to that – and you’ll start to see local journalism flourish.At the very least, the journalists on the local papers might have a little more time to go and hunt out stories that aren’t being written.Charles Arthur
Thanks for commenting Charles. I am all in favour of openness and transparency – so agree with the direction of travel you suggest. Yes – there are some exceptions – but there is not a great appetite to follow the major diet of local authority dastardly doings – or triumphant deployment of good ideas either.I don’t think a concentration on expenses gets us very far as they should be in the open – but they aren’t the be all and end all of what politicians do or should be held accountable. I know how hard it is for local journalist and how much pressure they are under – but there are real and big and important stories going on probably in most areas in London that never see the light of day. And I still hope that journalists long to scent a good story and track it – particularly when they are doing their time on local papers – and yearn (hopefully) to break stories of import and challenge to their skills. Or am I just impossible romantic about a journalist’s lot?