Local papers say they are “essential to democracy”

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Pic: The Newspaper Society

The South London Press, one of the famous titles in London’s print media, is supporting Local Newspaper Week, by emphasizing the role of local papers as “being essential to democracy.”

The paper has had a turnaround in fortunes and is bucking the trend in local paper closures and rationalization after being taken over by the Tindle group in 2007.

It fully backs a national initiative running from Monday May 13 until Sunday May 19 organised by the Newspaper Society while a political battle rages over a Royal Charter to regulate newspaper and online content.

The NS theme this year is press freedom and the Society is stressing the importance of the local newspapers’ power to “scrutinize authority and hold the powerful to account.”

The society has published a report this week on the findings of a survey of local newspaper editors looking at press freedom issues including the effect of the Leveson Inquiry on the industry, but this has been condemned by Hacked Off as “Unscientific and Misleading.”

The Society’s survey reports that “Nearly half of all local newspaper editors believe the Leveson Inquiry has negatively affected their titles’ relationship with readers.”

It has been reported that Hacked Off’s executive director Brian Cathcart has written to local and regional newspaper editors arguing “The Royal Charter approved by all parties in Parliament in March is good for working journalists, good for the regional and local press – and good for the public.”

The Newspaper Society supports a rival majority industry proposed Royal Charter and their intervention persuaded the Prime Minister to put the all-party Hacked Off backed Royal Charter on hold.

Lobbying group attacking Newspaper Society survey of local editors.

Lobbying group attacking Newspaper Society survey of local editors.

Press Freedom Week campaign and events

The week’s events  include the Newspaper Society’s Annual General Meeting and the Society of Editors Regional Press Awards at Savoy Place.

The awards ceremony, run in conjunction with the Society of Editors and Journalists’ Charity, will be hosted by LBC presenter Nick Ferrari, and will celebrate regional and local journalism.

There are currently 1,100 local newspapers in the UK and 1,600 associated websites. According to the British Market Research Bureau, 30.9 million people read a local newspaper every week, making it the most widely read print medium in Britain.

The campaign has been backed by a number of high profile supporters, including Lorraine Kelly, Lord Hunt and the retiring Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Igor Judge.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson told East London Lines that “the way we ingest news is changing fast but I truly believe there remains an important place for well-informed, local journalism that speaks about the issues and concerns of the local community.”

Supporters of the Local Newspaper Week  Individual Pics: The NS Graphics: Hannah Newton

Supporters of the Local Newspaper Week
Individual Pics: The NS
Graphics: Hannah Newton

Campaigning by the South London Press

The South London Press is one of the newspaper groups supporting the campaign. Founded in 1848, the newspaper provides weekly publications for the boroughs of Lewisham, Lambeth, Southwark, Wandsworth, Merton and Greenwich.  The newspaper, originally a Trinity Mirror publication, was taken over by the independent, family owned group Tindle Newspapers in 2007.

The South London Press will be backing the Local Newspaper Week, by interviewing local people and covering it editorially. They are also broadcasting an interview with the group’s founder, Sir Ray Tindle, about press freedom and the importance of the local press.

East London Lines spoke to the South London Press Managing Director, Peter Edwards who said “Press Freedom is something we as a nation should be proud of” and that we should “strive always to protect that.”

It is clear that this year’s campaign theme, Press Freedom, is in response to the Leveson Inquiry and the prospects of press regulation. Lord Justice Leveson, in his report, recommended that local newspapers be considered and that they should not face the same treatment as the national press.

Peter Edwards, of SLP, said that “The Leveson Report specifically mentioned local papers as not being complicit in what went wrong.” He said that Lord Justice Leveson acknowledged that they served an important role in their communities and that factors such as the recession have meant that the local press have had a hard time in recent years.

Edwards said that the government and all party Royal Charter campaigned for by Hacked Off have been “a broad brush that don’t serve our needs or the needs of our readers.”

The Newspaper Society calls the government’s royal charter “state-sponsored” regulation. Peter Edwards said that the newspapers’ alternative charter differentiates much more clearly between the serial offenders and the local papers who “just have the best interests of their communities at heart.”

However, the campaigning organisation Hacked Off has attacked the Newspaper Society’s position alleging it: “has, unfortunately, consistently failed to give a fair representation of the findings of the Leveson inquiry to the public and to its members. It has consistently misunderstood and misrepresented the effect of his recommendations on the local press.”

Edwards said that the “power to scrutinize authority and hold the powerful to account” is not the sole objective of a local newspaper.

He highlighted the unique and privileged position of the South London Press, saying that they are “not only a voice for the community, but they also celebrate with the community and they also mourn with the community.”

He stressed that the role is also commercial, as the local press is an essential part of the local economy: “they rely on and support the high street.”

According to the NS, 62 million unique users visit local news websites each month.

With local people blogging and tweeting stories as soon as they break, some newspapers may be concerned about the demand for publications. But SLP’s Peter Edwards said that the new media is a channel they embrace, through their own websites and social networks, as well as feeding online material into their printed publications.

However, he is also confident that this new source of information “doesn’t in any way lessen the importance of the printed word”, quoting that families will always want to buy “first day at school pictures” in print.

 

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