Although I probably added far less to the discussion than some of my more illustrious colleagues, there was plenty for me to take away from the launch of the What Do We Mean By Local? book in London.
Flanked by media big-hitters such as Professor Roy Greenslade, Neil Fowler, Chris Oakley CBE and Tom O’Brien (founder of the much-talked about MyMuswell) there was always a good chance that I’d get more from the event than I gave. But it was particularly interesting to see what the gathered audience of reporters, editors and academics would make of some of the arguments we’d put forward.
As is my usual behaviour, I like to wade into a debate whenever the opportunity is put forward, so I probably spoke more than I should. However, it was clearly evident that we still have a platform divide, with some believing that new wave hyperlocal sites are not providing the answer to the future of the brand of local news which is currently harvested by the local newspaper.
My reply – which looking back was probably rather too cutting – was to question why we should have to. After all, hyperlocal has always been about doing things differently and breaking with convention. If traditional media groups can’t make coverage of courts and councils pay then why should someone pick up the baton and think they can do it better? It’s also suggesting that hyperlocals aren’t doing any of this content when some clearly are.
However, if we’re looking at a straight supply and demand argument then the might of the big news organisations clearly have found far too little of the latter to justify the former.
I’m also a believer that we’re not in the final days of traditional print media. Instead, I think we’re in a transitional and evolutionary stage where digital and traditional are still trying to find their long-term role.
As I mentioned to the Coventry Telegraph’s Les Reid (who is an example of one of the ‘traditional’ reporters who are producing high quality journalism), cream will always rise to the top. Those journalists who can really find the best stories should always be valued – and rewarded – accordingly. But evolution should (if newsrooms don’t fall into their old ways) allow them to concentrate their products and efforts around these sorts of reporters rather than continuing to fund a wide range of what I would loosely describe as ‘core content gatherers’ who sit on a level playing field with colleagues who produce more of the hard-hitting, exclusive content.
The suggestion I made was that sites like Lichfield Live shouldn’t be forced to find a way to make a profit if that’s not what they want to do – and this is the exact area big media should be focussing on in the two-tier system I think we could be moving towards. By working with those sites and journalists who don’t need to make local content pay there is a real opportunity for traditional media to utilise this untapped content creation machine and build the kind of quality journalism they are capable of.
“Hyperlocal should be planting the story seeds and traditional media should be watering them and growing solid trees,” was the suggestion I made. Corny it may be, but something I really do believe could enhance the local media landscape.
All of which came back to this point of ‘them and us’ that still seems to exist in local media. Very few of the traditional media representatives who spoke in the audience seemed to be looking towards finding a pathway forward that would allow all parties to flourish. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we have to stop pointing the finger of blame and trying to find excuses for the predicament local journalism finds itself in.
It is in the interests of everyone to find a route forward and create a vibrant future for the local reporters of tomorrow – as well as providing a local media which audiences want.
The sum of tomorrow needs to be greater than the value of today.
What Do We Mean By Local? is edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves is published by Abramis.