Local newspapers play fundamental role in community

Local newspapers play fundamental role in community

10 April 2019

INDEPENDENT Rowallane election candidate Martyn Todd has highlighted the importance of local newspapers in their respective communities.

He said the papers have a critically important role to play, none more so than during an election campaign, particularly when it comes to returning local councillors.

Mr Todd recalled that a few years ago he heard Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, telling guests at an after dinner speech in Belfast that when he started in journalism, there were twice as many good news stories as bad news stories, averaged across all the local and national press in the UK. 

The council candidate said Mr Campbell revealed that the current ratio was eight bad news stories for every good news story which equates to life being sixteen times worse now than it was 30 years ago.

“Yet, all the scientific studies say that if you look at the objective ways of measuring well-being, life is actually better today for most people,” said Mr Todd. “I believe the scientific view and know most newspapers have to survive financially against severe competition from digital media.

“They do sell more copies when they cover sensational and negative stories. But there is a difference between national and local newspapers –  most of the stories covered in national papers are far away and we have no way of personally checking whether the story is totally true, slightly exaggerated or just fake news.

“The difference with a local paper is that we are likely to hear directly about some of the stories they cover and so can check their truth.”

Mr Todd suggested that if people don’t know about the story personally, they are likely to know somebody who does, contending that a local paper has a strong incentive to get things right.  He said, in his experience, the local media tries much harder to be accurate and balanced.

In addition, he revealed that in the Guardian last week, John Harris quoted a very worrying statistic — since 2005 in the United Kingdom, there has been a net loss of 245 local newspapers, with the trend similar in Ireland. 

“In Norway, the government recognised decades ago that local newspapers were an important part of the fabric of society and introduced subsidies for them,” continued Mr Todd.

“According to an academic paper on the subject — by Robert Picard — the rationale to part fund the local press in Norway included that there is the fundamental belief that newspapers have special political and social roles and functions in society that have not been well served by other media.

“There is also an understanding that economic factors other than reader demand influence the success or failure of newspapers, particularly advertiser choices and a conviction that the state should intervene in economic markets when their workings inhibit achievement of desired social outcomes.”

Mr Todd said there is also the belief that an array of support mechanisms designed to reduce costs for operations of newspapers needs to be in place.

He added: “The danger of losing our local newspapers is that more and more people will source their news on websites that are more and more partisan, adding to the growing divisions in society that we see on all important subjects. 

“In a local newspaper we get a wide range of subjects and a wide range of different opinions on these subjects. This encourages us to learn about new issues and to see other people’s points of view. So we should value our local papers and support them, especially during an election campaign.”