Local journalism matters

By Steve Walsh

I think almost everyone of sane mind would agree that the response to the devastating Manchester bombing last week has been nothing short of heart-warming.

As I write, a sea of flowers covers St Ann’s Square in the city, dedicated to the 22 people who lost their lives in the attack. Profits from concerts have been pledged. Vigils have been held. Impromptu singalongs heard. Manchester has shown that hate will not tear its people apart. Far from confined to the city, every day – 150 miles away – I meet with people who have been extraordinarily moved by both the incident, and the response.

Manchester Evening News front cover this week.
Manchester Evening News front cover this week.

Within the wide-spread media coverage – rightfully criticised in parts for the attempted exploitation of grieving, vulnerable people – the Manchester Evening News stands out from the crowd. Through moving tributes, detailed story-telling, round-the-clock coverage and dedication to honour the dead, the city and its people, it reminds us of how important a local paper that stands independently – with a collective arm around its people – is to a community.

I may be biased – I worked at the busy Northampton Chronicle and Echo when it thrived as a daily paper – but local news outlets really can be the soul of their own patch.

White or black; Muslim, Christian or atheist; old or young; broke or rich – a local paper stands for its citizens. All of them. It fights for its society, holds those in power to account, celebrates its people’s achievements and brings them together at times of need. At their best, they truly are the voice of the people.

They matter far more than national newspapers, owned by tycoons who care only for the political movement of the day that suits them. These are outlets that exploit for click-bait money, inspire hate against those outside their narrow readerships and that read increasingly like party political broadcasts. They stand for only for themselves.

We live in a time when the existence of local news is seriously under threat. Far from just the much-pedalled lines of ‘people won’t pay for content in an internet age’ – this is also largely due to under investment, lack of strategy and business acumen amongst once great titles, many saddled with the burden of repaying debts accumulated as a result of bad decisions by large parent companies.

They are stretched to the limit in places, unable to really do what they were intended for – to stand for their people. It’s easy to therefore forget their place in the world, their importance to society.

Away from the heart-ache and heart-warming we have witnessed in Manchester, we are reminded that people matter, the voice of the people matters: local journalism matters.

Recommended viewing: Spotlight – the Ocar-winning portrayal of how the Boston Globe newspaper helped expose the sexual exploitation by members of the catholic church


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