For the last 12 days, this blog has had a post a day – a rare occurrence – under the bizarre theme of the ‘12 days of local pressmasness‘. So what was it all about then?
Well, it was intended to be more than just a loosely connected batch of lists, some of which were well read, others less so.
For me, it was a way of showing just how unique the regional and local Press is, and why we have many reasons to celebrate what it does.
Some of what we do makes raises a smile, such as the Wolverhampton Express and Star’s Black Country nativity. Some of it is just tradition, like the Christmas Day babies. Some of it had a more serious edge, such as the foodbank campaigns run across the country this Christmas, while some of it reflected how the world is changing – such as the CCTV post two days ago.
Yesterday was all about showing off the creativity of the Press through the front pages which I thought were the most relevant in telling the story of 2013.
In short, it was about why we, as the largest part of the journalism industry, are so unique. No-one can come close to us when it comes to being part of the community – but it’s a community which is changing.
And in the rush to condemn a small number of journalists who broke the law, the last 12 months have seen the secretive Hacked Off organisation try and tar all reporters with the same brush. In its desperate attempts to ensure the Government begins placing the Press under state regulation, and therefore at the mercy of the rich or powerful, a lobbying group dominated by the rich and powerful, and funded by people who do not wish to make themselves known, Hacked Off has paid little attention to the regional Press.
It has made feeble attempts to engage with us, and in the process, only served to patronise us. We have nothing to fear from the plans to give the Government a lawful stick to beat us with, says Hacked Off. Wrong. As any journalist who has ever reported on something a large organisation has wanted to keep a lid on will tell you, if they have a lever to pull to keep the Press quiet, they’ll pull it. Be it a company, council or NHS Trust, with the wrong minds in charge, nothing is off limits when it comes to keeping the bad headlines off the front page.
Earlier this week, I went through a number of newspapers which have taken a tough stand against their local football clubs for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the clubs have just carried on. In others, like Newcastle United or Rotherham, the writers from the local media have been banned. The bigger lesson, however, is what it means to fans to see the paper on their side. And the same applies to any part of public life we cover – the moment we’re seen to be under the influence of the powers we’re supposed to report upon, we lose face with the public.
And that’s the threat facing us in 2014. Indeed, prime minister David Cameron’s warning to sign up to the royal charter which would regulate the Press or face tougher compulsory legislation might have raised cheers at Hacked Off, but it just proves the point the Press has been making: Given ’em an inch, and they’ll take a mile.
As things stand, we have a battle on our hands on many fronts, even when you discount the calls from Hacked Off.
Everyone is a publisher these days, and everyone has the power to be a vocal critic. We have to strike the balance between listening but also not being swayed when we know we’re doing the right thing. We have to make sure we’re covering the things which engage people – and many of those things have nothing to do with the stuff we’ve traditionally done – while at the same time finding an audience for the issues which shape the communities we work in, but which don’t automatically sell papers or drive page views.
We have to make sure we keep changing, while at the same time honouring the work which makes us a trusted part of the community – a trust which endures despite the best attempts of politicians and Hacked Off to treat all reporters with contempt. You only have to ask regional publishers about the audiences they drove when the flood water rose, the winds blew in and the storms brewed in their areas to realise that when it comes to reliable sources of information, we still hold sway. But in an increasingly competitive market place.
Against that backdrop, it’s easy to be glum. And that was the point of the 12 days of Local Pressmasness. Against all of that, it wasn’t hard to find what makes the regional press so unique and so precious, throughout 2013. We’re still the first draft of local history, presented in increasingly inventive ways to audiences who expect more, and will go elsewhere to get it.
For me, it was about celebrating everything we’re good at … and showing that despite our critics, we’re still doing what we’ve always done. The fight now is to make sure we’re still able to keep on doing it.