Written by Marc Astley.
I was saddened to read this story about how elderly residents in Essex are asking their MP to help them keep up with the news after the last of their local newspapers folded: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-47149809
Many senior citizens have no access to online news and have been left feeling isolated.
As a former journalist and editor, I have watched the demise of the press with both a sense of sadness and foreboding.
Newspapers are having a torrid time due to the migration of advertising and content online.
Forty local newspapers closed in 2017 with the loss of 45 jobs: https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/some-40-uk-local-newspapers-closed-in-2017-with-net-loss-of-45-jobs-new-research-shows/
The situation is so bad that the government has launched a review saying that the closure of hundreds of regional papers is fuelling fake news and is “dangerous for democracy”: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43106436
So what’s my point?
Simple – people are missing an important truth.
Ten years ago, when newspapers were in a healthier state, a reporter (or two) would be on duty in both Exeter’s magistrates and Crown Courts. That was mirrored in towns and cities across the UK.
Ditto council meetings, industrial tribunals, inquests and press conferences.
That meant you got to hear about the pervert who lived around the corner, the drink driver who put lives at risk, or the bullying boss who, rightfully, got their comeuppance.
Of course, some of that news still appears online, but the chances are these days that if you appear in court or are a rogue employer being taken to industrial tribunal, you will be spared the embarrassment of seeing your name in the paper – unless the case is particularly juicy.
That is dangerous for democracy. Very dangerous.
Just because you can keep up with Brexit on your mobile phone or check on the latest football scores, doesn’t mean you have a Scooby what is going on right under your nose.
We are lucky here in Devon to have some very strong print titles staffed by some incredible people.
They have dealt with monumental change, year after soul destroying year and still somehow come out on top.
No, they aren’t presiding over the same sort of newspapers they used to. Indeed, many like the one I edited are now weekly rather than daily.
However, they are surviving in exceptionally difficult circumstances … still exposing wrongs and still fighting for their communities.
I’d like to pay tribute to the staff of the Western Morning News, the Exeter Express & Echo, The Plymouth Herald, the Torquay Herald Express, the Mid Devon Gazette series, the North Devon Journal and the Crediton Courier (especially their stalwart Editorial Manager Alan Quick).
There are, of course many other local newspapers, thankfully, but those I have listed are the ones I know best.
Do me a favour – please. Buy a copy of your local newspaper, see how much news is in there that you couldn’t access elsewhere and consider what a blow to your community it would be if it shut.
What’s the old adage? You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.