Local papers stay local
When I travel around Britain I always buy a local paper wherever I stay as I think that it tells you a great deal about the town or city in question. The nation’s high streets all look the same these days, they all have M&S, Tesco, Costa, Waterstones etc. Even the pubs seldom vary thanks to the omnipresence of Wetherspoons. But thankfully local papers do still retain a degree of individuality.
Generally speaking local papers tell their readers what they think the reader needs and wants to hear. The Evening Standard has always had a heavy bias towards business and financial news, reflecting London’s position as one of the world’s main banking hubs. In similar vein, the Press & Journal in Aberdeen gives acres of space to the offshore oil industry. Papers such as the Liverpool Echo and the Newcastle Chronicle recognise the importance of football in their local communities by giving extensive coverage to their perennially underachieving football teams.
Local news is obviously a mainstay of the local press. Local Councils are always a good source of news stories, as are the law courts, the emergency services and any major employers in the area.
Most local papers see it as their role to generate and encourage debate. Traditionally local papers have always featured a letters page. However, in the modern world fewer and fewer people feel the urge to put pen to paper about the hot neighbourhood issues of the day. Those debates have now moved online, although some local newspapers have got round this by reprinting relevant Twitter and Facebook posts.
Opinionated columnists are also a good vehicle for provoking debate, although it seems to me that there are fewer of them about these days. Many MPs and local councillors provide regular columns to their local papers, although all too often they simply localise a template given to them by party HQ. Sadly the days are long gone when many local newspapers had the resources to run ongoing campaigns on local issues, but thankfully there are still one or two continuing to fight the good fight.
Local newspapers may not be the force they once were, but they still do an important job in reflecting the character of their local communities. Next time you pass through a town or city that you aren’t familiar with, you could do a lot worse than buy a copy of the local rag.
PS – If you think I am being unduly harsh in describing Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle United as perennial underachievers, it’s worth remembering that between them these three “sleeping giants” of the English game have won the premiership title precisely zero times.