At a time when the “localism” drive by central and local government is making high quality reporting and comment vital, the regional press is in a sorry decline, a shadow of its former self.
Today the BBC reports that journalists at Archant Norfolk which publishes the Eastern Daily Press, the Norwich Evening News and a string of weeklies are to ballot on industrial action over plans to cut up to 20 jobs.
In Norfolk a pork pie maker and blogger invited a former Archant journalist to write on what is happening to her local papers. The guest blogger writes:
A few recent examples of the good work regional newspapers can do include the EDP’s campaigns to save RAF Marham, applying pressure for the A11 to be dualled and fighting for better broadband to bring inward investment to the county.
But it’s not just about the big campaigns, it’s also about the little things. If you’re setting up a new business, the chances are you want to advertise it in the papers and you may well benefit from editorial coverage as well.
If public bodies are making cuts (aren’t they all?) who’s going to tell you about it and who’s going to give you a voice to shout about it?
Who’s going to tell you about crime, both major and minor, on your doorstep? Who’s going to tell you about events in your neighbourhood?
Who’s going to highlight the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to help charities and the community?
Who’s going to tell you the quirky little stories that make you smile over your cornflakes?
This reflects what Roy Greenslade, media commentator, former editor and blogger wrote recently about a dispute at another newspaper group in another party of the country. Greenslade, who loves print and has ink in his blood, wrote:
The net is the future, print is not.
I am often described as a doom-monger, a facile criticism. My analysis of the decline of newspapers is based on figures going back 50 years. It is further informed by the accelerating decline since the rise of the internet.
I know there will be printed papers around for a long time. What concerns me is that journalists won’t be.
I want to see the growth of relationships between a skilled professional journalistic cadre and concerned citizens.
Like Roy, I love print. That is where I started my working life, the smell of hot metal in my nose. Now I see online as the future although newspapers will still be around after I have gone.
That relationship between paid journalists and concerned citizens is developing as was neatly demonstrated by one of Greenslade’s Guardian colleagues today.
Patrick Butler (@patrickjbutler), a writer on social affairs, tweeted:
Struck by quality and consistency of political blogs in Suffolk: @andrewga @IpswichSpy @onlygeek @DeardenPhillips
It is nice to be included and I could add more good Suffolk blogs, some of them overtly party-political and others not.
One reason why Butler is reading the Suffolk blogs is that things of national interest have been happening in the county, most of them related to the county council. He needs information and opinion and he is able to get it from blogs as well as traditional print sources.
A concern that many of us have is that the traditional print media in Suffolk has been cut to the bone and overworked journalists are clearly having difficulty in doing the job they would like to be doing, to meet the demands of the community
To some extent bloggers are starting to fill the gap and answer the thirst for information. One day last week when a big story broke Wordblog (only three months old in its present form) had a thousand visitors.
Whether Archant which also owns most papers in Suffolk, including the East Anglian Daily Times and the Evening Star, will attempt to cut journalists here as well as in Norfolk I don’t know. It is difficult to see how they could as they have already cut to the bone.
In the meantime it is clear that online community journalism is strengthening with extremely local news sites developing and more bloggers coming on the scene.
In Suffolk we are a bit behind some other parts of the country in developing citizen coverage of councils by bloggers, but we are beginning to make our mark.
I believe there is a need for more people to hold councils to account in an area where there is little pluralism in the mainstream media. In Suffolk Archant controls most, including the two daily papers which now share reporters. BBC plans to develop hyper-local coverage have been hit over the head by government at the prompting of msm which has been building regional monopolies.
Encouragement to bloggers is provided by Kate Belgrave writing about her experiences of covering council meetings at Liberal Democracy under the title, Bloggers are best at covering local cuts across the UK: so we are being banned.
Which reminds me that Simon Higgins, Suffolk County Council’s head of communications, has not responded to my request, made on February 25, to allow filming by community groups in public libraries.
Once again, I find myself agreeing with something Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, says. I would, of course, support him in opening councils to greater scrutiny by bloggers.
I can’t really put it better than Pickles did in a press release yesterday:
Councils should open up their public meetings to local news ‘bloggers’ and routinely allow online filming of public discussions as part of increasing their transparency, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said today.
To ensure all parts of the modern-day media are able to scrutinise Local Government, Mr Pickles believes councils should also open up public meetings to the ‘citizen journalist’ as well as the mainstream media, especially as important budget decisions are being made.
Local Government Minister Bob Neill has written to all councils urging greater openness and calling on them to adopt a modern day approach so that credible community or ‘hyper-local’ bloggers and online broadcasters get the same routine access to council meetings as the traditional accredited media have.
The letter sent today reminds councils that local authority meetings are already open to the general public, which raises concerns about why in some cases bloggers and press have been barred.
For example Tameside Council has accredited professional journalists to report from meetings using Twitter. The decision means local bloggers, the public and even councillors are not permitted to tweet because they are not considered members of the press.
Eric Pickles said:
“Fifty years ago, Margaret Thatcher changed the law to make councils open their meetings to the press and public. This principle of openness needs to be updated for the 21st Century. More and more local news comes from bloggers or citizen journalists telling us what is happening at their local council.
“Many councils are internet-savvy and stream meetings online, but some don’t seem to have caught up with the times and are refusing to let bloggers or hyper-local news sites in. With local authorities in the process of setting next year’s budget this is more important than ever.
“Opening the door to new media costs nothing and will help improve public scrutiny. The greater powers and freedoms that we are giving local councils must be accompanied by stronger local accountability.
“We are in the digital age and this analogue interpretation of the press access rules is holding back a new wave of local scrutiny, accountability and armchair auditors.”
The letter also reassured councils that giving greater access will not contradict data protection law requirements following concerns over personal information. In the majority of cases the citizen blogging about how they see the democratic process working is unlikely to breach the data protection principles.
What to add? Suffolk CC has someway to go, but an RSS (Really Simple Sydication) news feed on it press release page would help bloggers and mainstream media get information more easily and quickly. I guess, it should take about half-an-hour to set it up. If it takes longer, ask the IT specialists why?
In Cambridgeshire there is a good example of what “citizen journalists” can, and are, doing. Richard Taylor’s report of this month’s budget meeting is here.
I am with Ipswich Spy in their analysis of of political blogging. Primarily, they are talking about Ipswich but do expand into the wider country.
As they say: “Locally, Councillor 2.0 as a concept has been completely ignored.” And this, at a time when the blogosphere is full of talk of Web 3.0.
I suspect Ipswich Spy was prompted to write on this subject by Alasdair Ross’s post about Ben Gummer’s website and the Conservative and Lib Dem websites in Ipswich. He, naturally, thinks the Labour website is good, which it is by comparison.
One of the county councillor blogs mentioned by Ipswich Spy is that of Jane Storey, which I have been put off because of my irrational dislike of rottweilers (that is not a personal allusion to the councillor who struck me as rather mild when I heard her at the council). It is a pity that her blog looks as if it has been taken over by Russian spammers who have placed links to sites selling fake Gucci handbags.
Like Ipswich Spy, I want to see more blogging in Suffolk. For a start it makes blogging easier, because the more people involved in the conversation, the more lively and productive it becomes.
Wordblog has been live again for about a month and I am still finding other bloggers in the area, but it proving much harder work than writing about the media and interacting with other media bloggers.
So we need more and better bloggers in Suffolk. I wonder if the county council would give me a grant to run seminars on blogging: if is important in developing communities. Seriously, I am willing to talk to anyone of any political colour about blogging.
* Note to Jane Storey: I think your spam problem would be solved by moving to Wordpress.com or Blogger.com. I would choose Wordpress.
I love my iPad. Couch blogging has become a reality. And the new BBC iPlayer app is brilliant but….
Yesterday evening I wanted to listen to Radio Suffolk’s any questions on the county council cuts. I could not find the station on the digital radio in the kitchen where I would be cooking at the time.
So the iPad would be the solution. No, the iPlayer which generally works very well, refused to play Radio Suffolk because it required Flash.
So, I was only able to hear snatches of the discussion, which so far as I could tell was predictable.
Until last night it was, if not unthinkable, unsayable to draw parallels between what is happening in Egypt, with events in England. During a Tonight programme focusing on Egypt, but considering the history of revolution, Jeremy Paxman said it was perhaps “inappropriate” to bring in the protests against cuts in this country.
Yet they did, in a report by Paul Mason. A common factor, he suggested, was young people with a university education and facing unemployment. They were reacting to a broken pledge that if they became well educated they would be better off than their parents. (It seems seems this segment, or something like it, was originally planned for last Friday. Look at Paul Mason’s blog for more on this.)
The British link has to be seen in context of the whole programme discussing Egypt and the record of revolutions. It included historians Simon Sebag-Montefiore and Simon Schama. You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer for some time.
While the pattern of revolution may not change much, one thing is different now. That is the horizontal nature of protest, loose coalitions of people without obvious leaders.
These two factors: youth alienated over education and jobs, and horizontal organisation through social media has been clearly seen in the tuition fees protests in England.
The library protests, while polite and peaceful, show unmistakable signs of horizontal organisation through social media with the use of email, twitter (#savelibraries), Facebook and blogs. No obvious leaders have emerged either nationally or locally here in Suffolk, but there is cohesion and common purpose.
British governments have long been terrified of losing control of the streets. They have adopted gradual change to avoid revolution, probably since the Civl War, three-and-a-half centuries ago.
There was no domino-effect here from the French Revolution, Chartism in the 19th century did not turn into a revolution, nor did the General Strike in 1926. Margaret Thatcher fell after poll tax riots 20 years ago. John Major then replaced poll tax with council tax.
In the 19th century Robert Peel introduced the Metropolitan Police with control of the streets of the capital as one of the principal reasons. He also adopted gradualism when he switched from opposition to Catholic emancipation to getting it through parliament when he realised the old policy was untenable.
No one is seriously predicting a revolution in England except for some Marxist and Trotskyist survivors from another age. Yet, I feel sure that in Downing Street developments are being watched carefully and a Plan B is being prepared whether or not they will admit it. Gradualism (that means concessions) may yet rule if protests become loud enough.
Wordblog had its origins as a media blog before I retired. Since then there have been several small attempts to revive it but I just could not find the subject which would work. Local affairs seemed interesting at times but I could not a rationale, or audience, which would make it worthwhile.
That changed on Monday evening when I went to Winston school room to hear Andrea Hill, chief exec of Suffolk Council Council talk about local government in an age of austerity. This is something which needs a much bigger debate than it has been getting, and that debate should not be only on the terms dictated by the council through its consultations.
The job of blogs, certainly the sort I write, is to engage in and foster debate. Certainly I achieved that with Wordblog in its media guise. The trade press included it in its list of the 12 most influential media blogs in the UK.
Successful blogging requires people to read and comment on your own posts. At the same time you must go out and comment on other blogs. You link to sources of information and comments whether on other blogs or elsewhere, in newspapers for example.
So, I find myself now looking for others with whom to engage in the conversation which is at the heart of blogging. This is how I came to be looking at blogs at the East Anglian Daily Times.
This leads me to revert to my media blogging days. Back in October 2006 I asked: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs? The response was immediate and I followed-up with several more posts on the topic. I like to think I played a part in rethinking the important role of blogging in national newspapers.
Now I am looking for East Anglian blogs with which to engage and naturally considered those on the East Anglian Daily Times site. There are eight of them and they bring me back to the question: What is the purpose of newspaper blogs.
- The Psyclist — last updated September 2010
- Unspun — a bit better with three posts this month
- North Stander — two posts this month
- StUs blog — three posts this month
- Flying with Witches — the author announces “2011 and I’m back”. Nothing since then and the previous post was last September. This blog comes up on an Evening Star page.
- Take One — The last post, in April last year asks: Has Hollywood run out of ideas? The author Andrew Clark clearly has.
- Unmissable — last post in September last year. Obviously become a couch potato.
- Dines Days — Surely there has been something to blog about from parliament since July 7 last year. Compare with Nick Robinson’s blog at the BBC.
Perhaps this was an EADT thing so I took a look at the Evening Star in Ipswich. Much the same state of affairs there. Even EdBlog, by the editor Nigel Pickover who has written excellent posts in the past, has been silent since October last year.
The picture at the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich the picture is much the same. All three newspapers have the same over Archant, so it looks as if this has something to do with overall editorial direction.
In the four years since I asked the purpose of blogging in national newspapers there has been real progress. Blogs now provide a two-way conduit though which they engage with their readers.