What about the community?

Trinity Mirror announced yesterday they were closing two of their local papers in South Wales – the Neath and Port Talbot Guardian papers.

Cost implications have been cited in a move that will cut a number of journalist’s jobs (although this is part of a company-wide move in Trinity Mirror which has seen another set of redundancies announced in Birmingham).

Alun Edmunds, the publishing director for Media Wales, said the readership will still be served by Trinity who will cover the area with The Western Mail.

That’s good to hear, but it does leave a problem – there’s a huge difference between having your own local paper which devotes all its coverage to what is happening in your community and having the big local covering events from over 40 miles away.

I find this a bit ironic the week after my colleague Andy Williams appeared on BBC breakfast talking about the impact of newspaper closures on communities.

I’m all for hyperlocal sites expanding into these area – but it does leave a crucial problem. The 2001 census gives the Neath/Port Talbot area a population of some 134,468 with over 15 per cent being listed as retired. I wonder how many of them have broadband access?

So maybe, what could happen in towns where we lose papers are collectives or co-operatives where journalists and the community work together to create print and hyperlocal. There are issues with economy of scale and more to be thought about – but is this impossible?

I recently read an interesting piece on the Nieman Lab called Newspapers get the kind of communities they deserve

All we have left is the trust that our readers — that our community — have in us. And how do we gain and keep that trust? By telling them the truth — but also by listening to them and valuing their input, and making them an equal partner in what we are doing. Only then will we get the kind of community that really matters.

Although the piece was primarily looking at a news outlets online community, I really like the quote by author Mathew Ingram.

Can we use co-operative techniques, coupled with the best of online and offline distribution to work with and alongside a community to keep the news relevant and local.

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8 responses to “What about the community?

  1. Your last question is one which I’m actively trying to find an answer to. I think you’re right in that the key is to making the relationship a co-operative, rather than the never-shall-the-twain-meet models which seem to have developed (The Hull Daily Mail model of having one site for its own journalists’ work, http://www.thisishullandeastriding.co.uk, and a separate site for all its UGC, http://www.thisisyourmail.co.uk, for instance).

    I’ve looked at practical ways of making our community correspondents feel more part of The Argus family on my blog, and had some good suggestions. The Northern Echo’s idea of buddying up its own reporters with its correspondents is also a good one.

    The next step has to be the other part of the equation you identify though – looking at the distribution.

    • In some ways, what you are suggesting harks back to the idea of community correspondents – but turbo charged.

      I think you are right, collaborative rather than ghettoed is the way forward here. And I watch what you are up to with interest.

  2. You make a very good point about the type of community-journalist co-operation that can replace disappearing local newspapers. However, I do not think it has to be as formal as a collective or co-operative in order to do the job. All you need is a handful of bloggers (enough to represent the various political, religious, cultural and other affiliations in town) who can engage with the community.

    But I disagree that the way to earn the trust of the community and engage with it is “by telling them the truth”. Rather, every separate blogger will tell their fans the truth they want to hear.

    • To be honest it was more the valuing and listening that struck me in that quote I just used the whole thing to put it in context. And yes, you are right the truth is subjective rather than objective.

  3. I think your assessment is spot on. As the big organisations retract and centralise, the smaller, idependent operators are moving in to fill the void – it’s a trend that’s visible up and down the country. But there’s also difficulties which being a lone operator brings – personal security, enough time being just two – where working in a co-operative or collaborative way would make more sense.
    As things settle down these loose affiliations will, I believe, start to form. The door is open for professional journalists to be part of this story, question is whether many will walk through?

  4. The more I hear this arguement, the more I draw the conclusion that the community does not have enough incentive to buy newspapers in the volume that it used to.

    Maybe we have to accept that the local paper does not command the audience it thinks it does.

    Is there still a need to hear what is happening in the region? I would say so. Maybe what we are seeing is a secondary impact of the “decline of the neighbourhood”. Maybe the world “out there” is what is seen on national TV…

    • Good point Ed, one of the things that I’m interested in though is what happens to those who have need of the info but don’t have the access.

      TV news is all well and good, but it doesn’t cover the minutae that is valued (or maybe taking your point on board – was valued) by a community.

      Hyperlocal sites allow that to take place, and for members of the community to do provide the coverage (whether that is in collaboration between journalists and the community or community driven) – we just need to remember that not all of our communities would be able to access that info, and often they are some of those who need the most info about access to services and changes in the community.

  5. Pingback: links for 2009-09-28 | Joanna Geary

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