I was interested to read in The Guardian recently that David Montgomery, head of the Local World media group, has advocated a new model for local newspapers. He seems to be suggesting that local media should no longer go out looking for stories and should instead rely on press officers from Councils and other high profile organisations to supply them with news.
On the face of it this might seem like a good move for those of us working in public sector communications. However, I can immediately see two enormous problems with Montgomery’s plan. Firstly, if local papers are full of nothing but press releases they will surely lose credibility and their circulations will continue to plummet. Secondly, the lack of objective journalism will be bad for the democratic process and will unquestionably lead to corruption and other scandals going unreported.
We all understand that local newspapers are going through a difficult time and changes need to be made. Only yesterday Trinity Mirror announced the closure of the 158 year old Liverpool Daily Post while in Edinburgh The Scotsman, owned by Johnston Press, is reported to be in dire straits.
Local papers are caught in a vicious downward spiral. The loss of vital recruitment and classified advertising to the internet had hit them hard. The resulting cuts to editorial staff mean that readers no longer find the paper interesting and so circulation falls, resulting in another drop in revenue and more cuts. And so it goes on…
As for how we revive our local papers, I suspect that the Montgomery plan is not the answer, but I confess that I don’t know what is.
It is vital that people have a way of hearing news, both good and bad, about their local services. If they can’t get that from their local newspaper, then we have to hope that other media channels will step up to the plate.