Green shoots in the killing fields of local journalism?

is a journalism lecturer and former broadcast producer and director. Twitter: @johnmair100

What do we mean by local?

Sir Ray Kindle is a very unlikely pioneer. He’s 87 and set up the Tindle Newspaper Group (starting with one paper) with his £300 pay-off from the Army six decades ago. Today that paper is thriving - so too is his local newspaper empire. This year alone he opened new titles in Greenwich and Petersfield; last year he split the South London Press into seven hyper-local titles.

Tindle Newspapers now has 220 titles and not one of his journalists has been made compulsorily redundant in the killing fields of local journalism in the past decade. Sir Ray’s motto? ‘No surrender.’

Tindle has discovered the secret of local journalism. It is in the name. Local. His papers serve micro-communities - like Pembroke Dock - and serve them well. The secret of revival of ‘the local’ is to work from the bottom up, not from the top down.

In Bristol, the Filton Voice and, in Essex, Everything Epping Forest have risen from the ashes of the collapse of local newspaper sales. Their editors have gone back to basics and found a market.

David Banks used to edit the Daily Mirror in London and the New York Daily News. Now he runs an email newsletter - 500 readers - in his home village in Northumbria. Likewise, Air-Vice Marshal Andrew Vallance. He is retiring from being the arbiter of ‘D’ (Defence) notices for the media to edit the Magazine of the Parish of Sunninghill and South Ascot.

From the bottom up also often means using digital technology to serve communities. Sky News is quietly piloting a local internet-based news service in Sunderland. Its audience is Wearsiders worldwide. Tomorrow, SkyLocal could break out all over the country.

Local commercial TV is set to be launched this autumn. Hopes are high for the 19 stations. ESTV in London has a large audience pool, multimedia support from the Evening Standard and the deep pockets of a Russian oligarch behind it. How many of the others will follow Oxford 6, Solent TV, Lanark TV and Channel M to the electronic knacker’s yard?

Urban and village hyper-local blogs can be found nationwide. The likes of Lichfield Live or the Brixton Blog in south London serve diverse communities. They are producing genuine local content, which the big companies that took over titles galore and made mega-profits in the recent past seem to have forgotten.

I was recently in the Bristol Evening Post’s building. No sign outside to indicate the pride in the title. In the foyer, an historic printing machine. Three editions a day have become one. The journalists have been reduced to one floor. And the garage - previously a hive of delivery vans - is now half empty. The decline in local journalism and local journalists has not been a pretty sight.

Local World has come out of that car crash. A conglomerate of the papers of Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe and Iliffe, it is big - and plans to generate much content from readers. Local World could be the lifeboat that saves the industry. But to do that it has to defy Tindle’s law: that local journalism means, er, local.

There is still some very good local journalism out there. I judge the Society of Editors Awards. Investigations and reportage from the Croydon Advertiser, the Basildon Echo and the Belfast Sunday World are outstanding. But they are the exceptions in a sea of blandness, ‘churnalism’ and ‘stories’ generated by Freedom of Information requests.

Much depends on a good editor. My local paper, the Oxford Times, has become content-rich under the new editor Simon O’Neil. But it is an investment at £1.30 each and every week.

However you get to them, on whatever platform you find them, the audience is out there on the local street.

John Mair edited What Do We Mean by Local? with Richard Lance Keeble and Neil Fowler, to be published by Abramis on 1 September.


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