If there’s one thing journalism doesn’t need going into 2017, it’s another clutch of gongs. For an industry which is constantly facing negative headlines (often understandable, of course), we still do a great job of celebrating our achievements.
And if you cut beyond the headlines and the punditry, there is a lot to celebrate despite the massive challenges the industry faces, challenges many in the industry are tackling head on.
So it’s for that reason that I’ve come up with a list of the people or teams or brands I believe deserve acknowledgement for things done for the industry in 2016. Of course, it’s not exhaustive, there are people who I’ve bound to have missed out (sorry!), and I could just list all the great people I work with every day, but hopefully it paints a picture of some of the great things going on in the industry.
Over on holdthefrontpage, Steve Dyson listed his seven ‘regional heroes’ (for transparency purposes, I should probably point out I made his list in 2015), and this list is inspired by that idea. For me, the heroes of our industry are those fighting to make a difference within the industry through their own actions, attempting to inspire those around them, regardless of their role or seniority, at a time of great uncertainty. To that end, Alison Gow’s list of women to celebrate in 2016 makes for a great read.
Some thoughts from me…
The launch of the 24 newspaper might seem like an odd place to start, given the title, billed as a national newspaper for the North only lasted for a few months before folding. But I think CN Group deserves credit for taking a punt on an idea and testing it in the real world. So many in our industry gave it no chance from the start, and there was far more debate on whether it covered the North (‘I couldn’t find it in Stanley’ etc etc) than there was about its quality. And those who read it will have found a good daily newspaper without an agenda, and which had the ability to prioritise news based on issues affecting the North. As an industry, we need to get beyond saying ‘it’ll never work’ to anything new and give things a go, and that’s what CN Group did.
On the subject of launches, it would seem odd not to include Matt Kelly of Archant in a list looking at the successes of 2016. While 48% of the population moped over the Brexit vote, Matt and his colleagues invented the concept of the ‘pop up’ newspaper in the form of the weekly, £2-a-pop New European title. Meant just to last a few weeks, it’s now almost six months old and, having survived the first flush of Brexit anger, is now finding a place as kind on Spectator/New Statesman-on-newsprint title for those who have bonded around the concerns over Brexit. Isn’t regional journalism all about identifying communities and becoming part of them?
Talking of launches, it went largely unreported that one part of Trinity Mirror, the company I work for, launched its second new website in as many years. Mirror Media Ireland launched BelfastLive in 2015, and it is now firmly established as the daily website of choice for tens of thousands, with a social reach to rival many of its century-old regional peers across the UK. Under the leadership of managing director Joanne McGreevy and editor-in-chief John Kierans, the team launched DublinLive in early 2016. It too is bringing a new voice to a competitive digital market, and in the process bringing regional news to an new audience. It’s a positive story I think deserves a bigger audience.
To set new standards…
Another overlooked story is the transformation of the Yorkshire Evening Post in print in recent years. Editor Nicola Furbisher announced her departure towards the end of the year, and she leaves a superb paper in my opinion. Many city titles have struggled to strike the balance between reflecting the changing image of city against the more traditional expectations of core readers, and whenever I see the YEP (normally while changing trains at Leeds) I see a paper that is handling that challenge really well.
Over Christmas, I got to read the Eastern Daily Press in print on a number of occasions, and in one edition was a farewell piece from departing editor Nigel Pickover. It was a brilliant read, and could (in my opinion) read as a manual for anyone who wants to be an editor about what’s important: Inspiring a team, becoming part of the community, working with other departments, being prepared to take a stand, and making sure you don’t just talk about ‘the newspaper’. And the papers I read over Christmas were superb too.
Neil White, the ex editor of the Derby Telegraph, is the final editor-who-departed I wanted to mention. His work with the NCTJ, and dealing with the thorny but essential ‘what does the NCE need to examine to be relevant’ (aka the ‘Shorthand is Journalism debate) has been tireless, but he’s doing what a journalist should – asking difficult questions and proposing solutions. As a result, journalism, especially regional journalism should be better off.
To learn and listen…
Staying on the academic side of things, UK media is awash with hackademics whose contributions to the industry seem to have little purpose other than to get into a book of essays or on to The Conversation. It frustrates me that we don’t have the kind of Nieman Lab or Poynter organisations in the UK who facilitate training, debate and ideas as the regional Press in America can rely on. But there are two leading lights whose impact on the industry is worth noting here. The first is Paul Bradshaw, who runs the MA Multiplatform and Mobile Journalism course at Birmingham City University. Often challenging, but rarely wrong, Paul helps inspire those who listen to him or follow his blog, Twitter feed and increasing array of publications.
The other is Andy Dickinson from the University of Central Lancashire. We’ve worked with Andy for a number of years, and like Paul, he’s clearly passionate about news, and strikes that rare balance of being able to tell us how it is while at the same time providing at least some of the answers on what we should be doing next. That and the fact he’s inspired literally hundreds of journalists I work with over the past few years!
Inspiration can come from far and wide, of course. Steve Buttry is something of a legend in American newspaper newsrooms, most recently for his work in helping many plot a digital path into the future. His work is built around the pillars of ethics, community engagement and having an open mind. His blog remains a brilliant source of information for anyone wanting to make an impact in regional journalism. Also on the other side of the pond is Josh Stearns, who wears various hats but is focused on finding new ways of developing local journalism. His approach spans sectors and traditional divisions and is built around the idea of civic engagement. The weekly newsletter he produces, The Local Fix, is never anything less than an inspiring read for journalists who care about local journalism.
Back in the UK, 2016 was a year when we faced challenges to Freedom of Information legislation, the threat of Section 40 being implemented – and yet another return of the dreaded council newspaper. Essentially council tax-funded propaganda, these titles distort local markets and damage independent publishing. The latest battle is in Hackney, where hyperlocal title the Hackney Citizen is making waves in fighting Hackney Council’s lop-sided Hackney Today publication. Founder Keith Magnum deserves the support of our whole industry to see off this PR-passing-off-as-journalism which fools no-one.
…And to remember why we do it in the first place
My colleagues at WalesOnline take, I think, more stick than any other regional title for supposedly sacrificing ‘important’ (an undefined term, generally, which seems to primarily serve the purpose of providing people who fear the need of our work being well read somewhere to stand and protest) content in favour of clickbait. Anyone who knows the website, knows the newsroom or sees the audience data will know such a narrative is utter bunkum. Their coverage of the anniversary of the Aberfan disaster was not just a project undertaken because they should, but driven by a desire to provide those who witnessed the dreadful event with an opportunity to tell their story in new ways. It set a new standard for regional journalism, I believe.
And finally, to the Regional Press Awards held back in the summer in London. To see those who helped lead the fight for justice for the victims of Hillsborough take to the stage to lavish praise on the Liverpool Echo is something everyone in the room will, I suspect, remember for a very long time. It was a powerful reminder of the importance of doing right by your readers, even when the establishment is against you. The Liverpool Echo was the only organisation to live blog every day of the Hillsborough Inquests, something campaigners have sought to praise, highlighting in particular the hard work of reporter Eleanor Barlow, who served as the Echo’s Hillsborough reporter.
As I said at the start, there are many more people who belong on this list. But as a starting point for 2017, I think it’s useful to remember that despite the industry’s challenges, important and impressive things are happening every week.