Local and national newspapers are disappearing, as the industry struggles to make money. With fewer journalists around, there is less coverage of local issues in courts, councils, hospitals, communities, planning and businesses. It also means that journalists still in the trade are under pressure to do more with less time and are increasingly relying on press releases from public relations departments that wish to manipulate the news in their favour.
To keep advertisers happy, newspapers can bury or misrepresent stories. The Daily Telegraphy’s treatment of the HSBC tax scandal is an example of an advertising deal worth £1.5 million impacting editorial decisions. Our national newspapers have been shown to lie and distort facts.
Journalists have no time to help us understand the complex issues of our globalised world, offering us simple explanations and simple solutions. And maybe the “news industry” has never been good at telling us how the world works.
While no journalism is entirely without an agenda at the very least, we need facts checked before being relayed to us. We also need journalists that get beneath the headlines – analysing and exposing what is going on in our society. As Clay Shirky stated, Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.
So what does quality local journalism look like? The term hyperlocal is often used to refer to news sites that provide local news and information that is relevant to their communities. In the UK there are over 500 hyperlocal news websites, covering the news, events, exposes on the local council or hospitals, campaigns, local history or civic engagement opportunities.
People who start hyperlocals are often motivated by a passion for their communities rather than profit making, so they often rely on a few individuals and volunteers. This raises issues of capacity and quality. They face other challenges, mainly finding a funding model that is sustainable and ensuring quality investigative journalism. Many don’t have the clout of local newspapers with budgets, legal teams, administrative support and back-office help. This will impact the quality of journalism, particularly complicated investigative work. Never the less, this is an exciting opportunity that can make journalism relevant.
Funding for hyperlocals is a mix of online and printed newspaper advertising, sponsored advertorials, membership contributions and crowd funding. The BBC could do more to support local media for example, by crediting local news sites, hosting joint training and offering access to local history archives.
While these types of news sites grow and find their way, fact checking services such as those provided by organisations such as Full Fact are critical in helping to hold our media and politicians to account.
Below is the video from The Bristol Cable, a media co-operative – created and owned by people in the city. It is a platform for people to engage with their communities and hold power to account in their city and wider society. Is this the future? Only time will tell.
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