The legacy of local journalism
Just over two decades ago I started my working life in local journalism, having been fortunate enough to land a job on the Croydon Advertiser.
This was a serious London title, second only to the Evening Standard and serving a population of over 300k with sister titles that reached into the neighbouring boroughs of Sutton and further south into Surrey.
We had a full reporting team: a news editor and his deputy, specialist feature, court, health, business and political journalists, two desks of reporters and a full sports desks. The sub-editing of the paper was managed in the office and, of course, we had a team of photographers. It was how journalism should be.
The team had the bandwidth to cover all of Croydon’s news from the council to the crime, from the schools to the quirky. We produced a meaty weekly paper that politicians, celebrities and businesses wanted to be featured within.
Fast forward 20 years and all of the above are just fond memories. The paper still exists, I am delighted to say, and a dedicated, professional team still produces not just a weekly paper but a thriving online edition (unsurprisingly). But it does so with a fraction of the original team.
Speaking to those close to the paper, what has been lost is the bandwidth. The ability to dig deep, to analyse and to hold to account. To be, quite simply, the voice of Croydon.
There are many reasons for its demise. Mostly, it’s a similar story to those found within this Guardian article – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/sep/29/local-newspapers-closing-down-communities-withering …although there is also a more nuanced set of changes specific to the changing socio-demographic nature of Croydon that should not be ignored.
I have hope for the future of local journalism. Unlike many industries which have been impacted by the internet, there are strong reasons to not let it simply disappear due to market forces and investment is emerging to make sure that does not happen. The biggest challenge will always be finding and engaging the audience.
For myself and those who worked with me on the Croydon Advertiser, the legacy runs deeper. As a training ground, local journalism is almost second to none. Thrust out of university (typically) into the realities of society which you then had to understand, assess and write about … to a deadline, learning quickly about the mix of articles that made an interesting read, the way to engage people with your writing, be humorous or serious, creative or hard-edged … let’s just say you learnt quickly!
I have taken those skills with me through my working life. For me that meant PR, crisis comms and now content marketing. For others a life in journalism – be it the locals or nationals. You may not have been paid much as a local journalist (and you may have spent far too much time in the pub back in those days) but you invested in your own future.
So for me, local journalism has left a legacy on my life that I will never underestimate. I have hope for its future. Does it need reinventing? Does it need to recognise that the audience of yesteryear cannot be the sole audience of today? Does it need to understand more closely what makes its local society tick beyond the classrooms, council chambers and courtrooms? Yes to all of that.
But do we need local journalism? Do we need our local politicians and influencers to be held to account? Do we need to continue to have a heart to our local communities? All of that is also yes.
Today I live and breathe content again. Having spent years trying to influence journalists to write about my clients, I now have the joy and privilege of producing content on their behalf once more. Weighing up the experiences of both local journalism and content marketing I appreciate that local journalism taught me to understand the needs of the reader while content marketing focussed me on engaging an audience.
Local journalism could learn a lot from content marketing