Celebrating local newspapers

EDITOR  Mark Waldron
EDITOR Mark Waldron
PCSOs and police officers around Priory School this afternoon

Police speak to school after fight in Southsea play park

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IT’S 9.30pm in the council chamber and vital decisions are being made about your future and how your money is spent.

No members of the public are present, but in the corner of the room is your local newspaper reporter, notebook in hand, making sure the decisions are reported.

Earlier in the day a reporter was in court covering the sentencing of a drug dealer and ensuring the process of open justice could be followed.

Back in the office, his colleagues were on the phone asking important questions about how well the local NHS was performing.

Another colleague was speaking to local families as a Royal Navy ship returned to Portsmouth after several months abroad, while another reporter was sensitively putting together a tribute piece following the tragic death of a young person.

This is all in a day’s work and demonstrates why local newspapers are so important.

Starting today is Local Newspaper Week and many of the country’s 1,100 local and regional newspapers will be taking part.

The theme this year is press freedom, highlighting the importance of local newspapers’ freedom to scrutinise authority and hold the powerful to account.

It aims to highlight how local newspapers’ ability to underpin local democracy is dependent upon their freedom to report freely without being restricted.

Community leaders today threw their support behind Local Newspaper Week.

Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, said: ‘The importance of a local newspaper in a free society is they keep people informed of what’s going on and try where possible to keep people informed of the democratic system we are operating in whether it be the local authority, county council or national government.

‘They do more than just protect democracy.

‘They are the barometer of what’s happening in the community – whether it’s helping people gain sponsorship for charity, reporting on what the military are doing, the job prospects of the area, or companies’ successes or failures.

‘They are a vital part of the community infrastructure and we should do all we can to keep local newspapers going.’

Mr Hancock said newspapers had evolved to embrace the internet and social media age.

But he said the most fundamental aspect of any newspaper was maintaining a strong relationship with the community and being a trusted source of information.

He said: ‘It’s a two-sided thing.

‘We can’t have a newspaper supporting the community if the community are not prepared to support the newspaper.

‘I have had my fair share of bad publicity, but I still would not give up the idea of having a good, well-informed newspaper as being essential.

‘It’s quite interesting that in places where local newspapers have gone, people feel sad.’

Havant’s MP David Willetts said: ‘Local newspapers are a very important part of local life.

‘It’s very important to hold MPs, councils and councillors to account.

‘It’s an important source of local information.’

Mr Willetts said the freedom of the local press was vital.

He said: ‘There has been some inadvertent collateral damage for local newspapers from the Leveson Inquiry. Local newspapers, by and large, are trusted more.

‘But I know people are very keen not to impose any excessive burdens on local papers in particular.’

He said he was a regular reader of The News and used it to help organise his diary.

‘I draw on information in The News to help my programme of activities,’ he said.

Pam Marshall, from Horndean, was full of praise for local newspapers.

Her daughter Hannah lost her battle with Hodgkin’s disease in 2004 at the age of 10 and in 2007 she set up a charity called Hannah’s Holiday Home, giving families with sick children a welcome break.

Pam said: ‘Local newspapers are part of everyday life.

‘As a charity, The News has helped us so much with raising awareness.

‘The paper covers stories about local families who are in desperate need. Ordinarily, people might never have heard about them.’

She added: ‘The News has been there the whole way with us.

‘We wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.’

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, said: ‘Regional and local newspapers are an invaluable asset to their communities. Plainly, they provide regional and local news. But that is only the start.

‘They hold those who exercise power within communities to account.

‘They comment, cast light on, and where appropriate criticise the activities of local government.

‘And they strengthen communities in other ways. They cause information to be disseminated and shared. They allow local successes to be celebrated. They promote open justice by reporting proceedings within local courts.

‘As I have said on previous occasions, it would be devastating if the local and regional press were to die, to be replaced by some sort of handout from the local authority, extolling everything done by the authority and silent about its errors. We can and must do without propaganda sheets, paid for by the public, which provide self-serving “official” spin.

‘This means that in the public interest local and regional media must survive. Reading the Newspaper Society’s statistics that 31 million people a week – half the population of the United Kingdom – read the local press, it is clear that the public demand for their services and their survival is there. Local and regional media is part of the fabric of our communities. Long may this continue.’

A WORD FROM THE EDITOR

WITH the fallout of the Leveson inquiry still resonating around the media world, it is fitting that the theme of this year’s Local Newspaper Week is press freedom.

The freedom of papers like The News to scrutinise authority in all its forms and hold the powerful to account remains central to our daily news operation.

Shining a light in areas where others may prefer darkness and making information public which some would rather keep private ensures we can continue to underpin local democracy.

And it is important that, providing we report fairly and accurately and work within the standards and ethics of our industry, we should be able to do so without restrictions.

Lord Justice Leveson rightly exposed the worst excesses of a minority of journalists on some national newspapers. I have said before within these pages that this is a world away from life on The News.

But behaving in a way you would expect from your local newspaper does not blunt our desire to seek the truth, ask the awkward questions - and to continue to do so until we have satisfactory answers - and to stand up for you, our readers.

Whether this is simply reporting from the courts and corridors of power, to challenging those in authority, to actively campaigning on issues where we see injustice, we will continue to provide a valuable and valued service both in print and online.

We happily celebrate the successes of local people every day. I hope you don’t mind if, just for this week, we celebrate some of ours.

FACT FILE

· Local newspapers are more than twice as trusted as any other media channel.

· 30.9 million people read a local newspaper every week, making it the most widely read print medium in Britain.

· There are 1,100 local newspapers and 1,600 associated websites in the UK.

· Local media websites attract 62 million unique users each month.

· 11.5 million people read a local newspaper but do not read a national newspaper.

· 61 per cent of adults read a local newspaper.

· Over 60 per cent of people act on the ads in local newspapers.

· Advertising on local newspaper websites is 77 per cent more likely to be believed and relied upon than advertising on other websites.