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Redefining local

February 18th, 2019 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

I was just looking at the website of the Crawley and Horley Observer, the only remaining local newspaper in Crawley. It gives a lot of hints as to why local papers have been in such a decline.

Without scrolling down, there are nine stories/headlines visible. The main one is “Sussex murder: man hands himself in to police“. It is about a stabbing in Brighton. Which isn’t in Crawley or Horley. The next headline is “Murder probe as brother of Sussex teens killed in Syria dies after stabbing”, which is about the same Brighton incident. The third headline is “A272: Two suffer serious injuries in head-on collision at Ansty“. Again, not in Crawley or Horley. It isn’t too far away I supppose, but would take 20 minutes to drive there.

The other headlines are about flybmi going bust, which is of some interest to an airport town, the Ansty acident again, a paraglider crashing on a Sussex beach, the Ansty accident yeat again, and an interview with Richard Cadell about Sooty, because the Sooty show is coming to Horsham, Eastbourne and Dorking (but not Crawley or Horley). The last headline is “Man arrested after knife seized in Crawley“.

So. Nine headlines. Five of them about two incidents outside the area, and only one directly about the two towns mentioned in the paper’s title. News from nearby is not a problem but I resent the way it is so often headlined in a click-baity way by being vague about the location. It is “such-an-such happens in Sussex town” and you have to click through to find out it is a Sussex town 30 miles away. It would be more honest to say that an incident was in Burgess Hill, Brighton or wherever and we could read it if we wanted to, or not bother if we are feeling hyper-local.

This is just a symptom of the way local papers are now organised. very few are independent but have been swallowed up by a few large companies. Offices have been merged and the few reporters left have to cover several areas. The only way they can generate enough content to fill several papers from so few staff is to sort of syndicate it. The same story will appear in all the sister papers as long as the headlines are vague enough.

Another consequence of the way the business has gone is that it is so heavily dependent on advertising to maintain even the skeleton staff it has now. I have Ad Blocker installed on my PC and can see that it has blocked 28 ads on the front page. Look at a local newspaper website without an ad blocker and it is practically unreadable with pop-ups, pop-unders, banners, and so on. The same is true, and maybe even more so, for the new web-based alternative news sources like Crawley News 24, which is a real dog’s breakfast to look at (even with 14 ads blocked) , but it does manage to find enough news without having to include things from Peacehaven and Haywards heath, even if that is often acheived by just re-printing loads of press releases.

Who is to blame for all this? Obviously it is us. We don’t like to pay for content on the internet, or anywhere else if we can avoid it. So the paper copies are now free, and the whole business relies on advertising revenue, which is shared around an increasingly large number of places. And I guess that those of us with Ad Blocker are only making it worse. Of course the merging of titles contributes, but like other factors, that is ultimately caused by the reluctance of the paying public to pay.

I’m sure the editorial staff know all this, like it as little as the rest of us, but have to keep going and do as best they can in the circumstances, but it must make work quite depressing before you even get to the depressing nature of some of the news these days. I have met quite a few of them and they all seem like decent people making th most of a bad situation.

All of that might explain and excuse the decline of local journalism, but it doesn’t even hint at any way to turn it around. It can only be a matter of time before the only sources of local news will be from sites that are little more than blogs, run by obsessives, those with a vested interest, and chancers who work out they can grab a slice of advertising revenue by recycling other sources and press releases.

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