The Future of Local News


This week I am looking at a parliament report from the House of Commons into the future of the regional and local media. The report takes a look into what is affecting the local media, why it is the way it is, if it has a future and whether it is under threat by the growth of the internet and technology. After reading this report, I have come to the conclusion that if the local and regional media is suffering and under threat then it is simply due to a lack of resources and innovation when it comes to making local news interesting.

The 2009 government report discusses the functions of the local and regional media and describes them as this:

– Scrutinises and holds to account local authorities and institutions

– Informs people of news and events in their local community

– Forms part of the local identity of an area. 

Now, to me these are good things for the local media to do. So why are they suffering?

The report notes that they have faced a number of challenges from the recession to structural changes to the internet and technology. The first two challenges are completely understandable as most businesses have suffered at the hands of our economic crisis and to an extent I do understand that the popularity of the internet will have hindered the local media’s circulation. However, I believe that it is so important for the local media to get on board with the new technologies and the internet and really use it to their advantage.

Take a look at a couple of websites for local newspapers in South London for example:

Do these websites look enticing to you? Are they interesting? Are they very different from one another? Would you want to visit them everyday to get your local news? I’m guessing that the answer to the majority of those questions is no. These websites for local newspapers are so boring and plain that they surely can’t expect people to want to access them. The 2009 government report even concluded that the local media needs to be innovative with their websites and use of technology in order to get out of this slump that they’re in and they suggested that the IFNC (Independently financed news consortia) should offer a skills and resource base in order to help local newspapers make the vital transition to online and print publication.

It’s not that people don’t value the local and regional media as the report showed that 90% of UK adults consume local media with 3/4 of those reading a local newspaper weekly but only a minute 1/5 accessing their local newspapers websites. I’m sure that for a lot of people the web is more convenient, it’s free and they can access it from their bed in their pyjamas so why aren’t they using it for their local news? I think it’s because of the lack of focus on these websites, the lack of care and perhaps a lack of staff and also knowledge.

On a positive note however, the 2009 government report highlighted the fact that people do value the local and regional media with the Press Association saying:

it’s a trusted source of public service information and accountability for local communities.

And the Department for Culture, Media and Sport stating:

Government recognises the importance to our democracy of local news, as a source of independent, local information produced to high journalistic standards, and news plurality. We believe that wide availability of news at all levels, national, regional and local, is at the core of public service content. Research carried out as part of Ofcom’s public service broadcasting (PSB) review showed very clearly that people trust and value the provision and choice in news services in this country, and they trust and value local and regional news in particular.

The local and regional media is obviously still very important, it just needs a little bit of help in keeping up with the digital world.


The Citizen Journalist

Citizen journalism has become more and more prevalent in todays media and can come under a number of names such as; user-generated content, participatory journalism and interactive journalism. However, no matter what label it comes under it is effectively ordinary people sourcing and reporting news that is spread through the internet. But can we honestly call those that aren’t trained, experienced or professionals; journalists?

According to John Kelly in Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold, you don’t have to be a journalist to create journalism . Kelly notes that citizen journalism is a direct result of technology and the fact that the internet has given people the tools to create journalistic content of their own. Technology means that anyone can use their smartphone to take an image and tweet it or put it on a blog in an instant and in cases of breaking news it can be more effective and seen by more people than a news story in a paper.But does being in the right place at the right time make you a journalist?

In my opinion, no it doesn’t but Kelly rightly notes that the news media and journalists aren’t as trusted as they once were. So why shouldn’t the public get their news from people just like them that aren’t working to any agenda? Lately, journalism has suffered after a number of mis-setps and questionable coverage which has lead to only 18% of people surveyed in 2008 to say that they trust journalists to tell the truth. In a society that is so tech-savvy that has access to any information all over the world via the internet, journalists can’t afford to make these mistakes anymore because we live in a world where people will notice and therefore get their news from elsewhere. I agree in the fact that mistakes have been made and maybe that is a factor in the rise of the citizen journalist but I also think that it is important to note that citizen journalism has no regulations or restrictions in terms of the comments that people can leave on blogs, the opinions that are expressed, the news that is put out and implications of what is revealed. This lack of regulation along with lack of training within the industry and education makes me question whether citizen journalism is useful or not.

However, I completely agree when Kelly says that “the internet provides, if not a substitute medium, then a parallel one, a low-cost distribution mechanism that is newspaper delivery truck, paper boy, and radio and TV transmitter all in one.” The internet will inevitably change journalism and the way it is produced and read but I don’t think that we will see a time where the untrained citizen journalist overtakes a professional.


The revolution that never happened

Steen Steensen is yet another journalist to explore the ways in which technology is changing the face of journalism in his blog new journalism/new media.

Steen notes, as many others have done, that media executives and academics alike making predictions that technology will revolutionise and perhaps cause the end of journalism as we know it, are wrong. He rightly argues that the majority of online newspapers are still producing written text for their audiences just like regular print publications do when there is a whole world of technology including hyperlinks, multimedia and ways to interact with their readers at their fingertips. All of this “great technology” is readily available so why aren’t they using it if it is supposed to be so revolutionary? I suppose it could be that online readers still want the same types of journalism as they would get in a print copy without having to go out and buy it and with the luxury of being able to read it on their smartphones or laptops. But if that’s the case, then what’s the point of having all of this new technology? 

Steen also notes that everyone believed that the telephone, television, radio and computers would cause “the end of history, the end of geography and the end of politics” but they definitely haven’t. They have changed the world and the way people access information but with each invention and technological change the others haven’t been wiped out and become redundant. None of the previous changes have killed journalism; so why should the internet? 

I have to say that I agree with Steensen, the internet will, inevitably, change journalism and the way we approach things but it won’t happen as quickly or as a dramatically as people seem to predict. The evolution will be slow and journalistic practice will continue to be the same but with adaptations for the online world.

The future of journalism

This week I have been looking at James Curran’s literature on the future of journalism in Technology Foretold and The Future of Journalism; within these two texts Curran looks at previous predictions about how technology will change society and journalism.

In Technology Foretold, James Curran highlights how the expectation and predictions surrounding technology in Britain in the 80’s and 90’s were rather far-fecthed and indeed, wrong. Leading industry experts, the media itself and the public believed that changes within technology would lead to forms of old media being completely wiped out and journalism and society would change dramatically. Kenneth Baker, the technology minister at the time, said that Cable TV would have “more far-reaching effects than the industrial revolution 200 years ago.” This highlights just how high expectation was and how oblivious people were to the reality. In reality, only 1% of homes had cable in 1989 and only 13% in 2008. This fact alone shows that the hype that surrounded this new technology was unnecessary and misplaced; also making it clear that you can’t really predict the future and what or how technology will effect journalism.

However, Curran also shows that it would naive to think that the ever evolving world of technology will not have some effect on the journalism industry. In The Future of Journalism he highlights the fact that the internet has had an effect on paid journalism jobs and a number of redundancies have been made as a result. For example, between 2008 and 2009, 106 local newspapers closed in Britain and The Trinity Mirror reduced its staff by 1200. Although this suggests that the internet has hindered old media in Britain, Curran is also keen to point out that new medias have been affected too as ITV had to cut 1000 jobs in the same year. James Curran explores all arguments within his articles and gives a well-balanced point of view.

I think that he makes it clear that you cannot predict the future and we can’t really see what direction journalism will go in, the world is constantly changing and technology is constantly evolving. Investors, advertisers and the public will have constantly evolving opinions and needs and the media can’t always predict those needs.

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