Love local journalism whatever platform it lives on

I try not to use this blog too often to talk about my job, because that’s not what it is meant to be about.

But having been heavily involved in the new digital project in Reading, I thought I’d use the blog to counter some of the complete bobbins which has been written by supposed journalism experts.

I’m not going to divulge detailed editorial plans (sorry), not least because they are for publisher Ed Walker to talk about when the time is right. But there are some things I do want to share.

It should go without saying that nobody ever wants to close a print title. I started in print almost 20 years ago and still love reading newspapers.

But it’s clear to anyone who knows the industry that as more and more people consume news online instead of in print, some newspapers will reach a point where an online-only future is their only future.

Yet too many people still confuse local journalism with the platform it is published on. The two are very different things, and the future of local journalism hinges on finding the right platform to reach as many people as possible.

get reading

There’s been a lot of talk about the sort of content our team in Reading, led by publisher Ed Walker, will produce. The doom-mongers insist it will all be click bait listicles along with quizzes, picture galleries and User Generated Content.

And yes all of those will be part of the mix – why sneer at content which people clearly want to read? That sort of journalism snobbery only serves to alienate readers, the people we rely on to remain in business.

But that’s far from all we will be doing. On the GetReading website, you can see clues about the sort of content we’ll focus on as the new team is announced. Local news will still be covered, local sport will still be covered. It won’t be just car crashes and missing from homes – although it’s wrong to sneer at coverage of those. Journalism shouldn’t ignore what is well-shared on Facebook, but also shouldn’t be constrained by that metric.

Councils will still be covered, courts will still be covered. The underlying principles of local journalism don’t change just because the platform does. Local news brands, be they in print or online-only, need to connect with readers. They need to fight on behalf of readers and provide the information they need to help them live their lives. And make them smile too.

My belief is this: We should give people what they want, when they want it and how they want it. That means keeping a very close eye on audience data and doing more of the stuff that works.

If there is stuff which we think is important but doesn’t appear to be appealing to audiences, we need to ask why and find a way to make it work.

And yes, there is stuff which we won’t be doing which traditionally we would do in print. Another side of the online revolution is the ability people now have to self-publish. In that context, we have to prioritise the content which others won’t be doing. Do what you do best, and link to the rest is a well-worn digital mantra, but also a correct one.

Print was always a moment in the day, a snapshot in time which people chose to set aside half and hour to read about. That worked for us for generations, and for the reader too. And for many millions of people a week, it still works for them.

But it’s a different world now. Audiences are more demanding, and there is more competition out there. Our job is to stand out and be different to the others – and we do that by staying true to the values we’ve always held. Trust is everything.

reading last frontWe need to convince people that we should be part of their daily lives, several times a day if possible. None of this will come as a shock to anyone who is familiar with any of the websites where we’ve already rolled out our new newsrooms, and the audience is responding positively to it.

Journalism doesn’t die when it’s done ‘just’ online – it has the potential to reach more people than ever before, and have a far greater impact as well. Local journalism shouldn’t be defined by the way it is consumed – print, online, mobile etc – but by the way the audience react to it.

A newspaper closing is always sad. But Reading will prove that local journalism is alive and well and attracting bigger audiences than ever before.

Love the journalism, not just the platform.


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