Wednesday, September 28, 2022
HomecommentComment: Why local news matters (and needs your support)

Comment: Why local news matters (and needs your support)

The demise of Johnston Press – publishers of the Yorkshire Evening Post and 200 local newspapers – should have come as a surprise to no-one, writes Dispatch editor John Baron.

The company, struggling in part thanks to a debt it had accrued years ago when it bought a series of titles in Ireland for £96m, went into administration on Friday.

It has since been rescued by what is know as a “pre-pack” sale, whereby the ownership of the company has been transferred to a newly formed company, JPI Media, owned by its bondholders including US hedgefund Goldentree Asset Management.

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The deal means short-term security for Johnston Press titles and journalists’ jobs, but the National Union of Journalists have expressed concerns that longer-term stability is still at risk.

Why should this be of concern to people living in West Leeds?

With JP, titles have merged or closed as the company, print runs have dropped, staffing has continued to decline and newspapers became thinner.

Quality suffered as print circulations declined and – coupled with the economic downturn – it’s been difficult to establish a sustainable business model online. It’s been a ‘perfect storm’.

Read lecturer and WLD board member Rebecca Whittington’s insightful analysis of JP’s troubles. Troubles mirrored, it must be said, to lesser degrees by other newspaper companies.

Without a vibrant local press, there’s no-one to hold the powers that be to account.

I’ve never met a councillor who hasn’t recognised the importance the local media plays in ensuring local democracy is alive and well in the community. A reader’s watchdog, it shines a light on council decision-making and accountability.

A good local media is the glue that binds the community together. It connects you to local groups and organisations, celebrates success stories and provides you with important local information.

It’s unthinkable as a society that up to 200 titles across the country could have been lost, leaving a huge vacuum.

And it’s not just ‘big’ media that faces a fight for survival.

West Leeds Dispatch & survival

Community media like the West Leeds Dispatch also needs to find ways to survive.

We’re a social enterprise run entirely by local volunteers, from our board right through to our community contributors. As editor I spend around 24 hours a week voluntarily putting the Dispatch together on top of two demanding part-time (paid) jobs and family life.

Costs for running our community newsletter and website hosting all currently come out of my pocket.

As much as I and the board love doing this (and we do love it!) it can’t continue to be a labour of love. To put it bluntly, it’s just not currently sustainable. It’ll never be a full-time job, but it does need to become at least partly sustainable to avoid burnout.

I’m proud of what we do here at The Dispatch, shining a spotlight on community issues, council decisions and celebrating local groups.

But readers need to understand that this free online commodity called news that they receive takes time, effort and expertise to deliver. I believe it has massive value to our society.

In the new year we’ll be looking at taking some advertising. We’ll also be encouraging readers to make regular voluntary contributions to offset our costs and start to sustain us.

If you value local news – whether it be from the Yorkshire Evening Post or community media like us – you need to support it.

Otherwise, it’ll simply wither and die.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I for one would be equally sad and all the poorer if we were to lose your daily updates. They are informative upto the minute and address local issues important to us.
    Could I suggest that we make a contribution or monthly standing order to maintain the daily updates…
    Many thanks for your contribution

    • That’s very kind of you, thank you for your support. We’ll be launching our monthly contribution scheme early in the New Year. Watch this space!

  2. Newspapers – along with pubs, small shops etc, only die because customers don’t support them. We haven’t been to a pub for years,we haven’t bought newspapers for longer and we don’t have a television to ‘inform’ us . We do use local shops, local producers and the market but we also grow much of our own food and make all of it, we have to insurances and buy few clothes, gadgets and no furniture or holidays so if the economy depended on us there wouldn’t be an economy.

    But I read all the Dispatches even though we live at the other side of Leeds and if/when a contribution scheme begins I’ll be signing up.

    • Hi ‘Fred’, it’s much more than a hobby! Yes, I enjoy doing it, as much as I expect you love doing your job, but I bet you get paid for it! This isn’t a hobby. The truth is producing the West Leeds Dispatch is A LOT of work and it isn’t sustainable – it takes over your life trying to keep up with the sheer volume of content and I’m at the point of burnout.

      Local news media provides an important civic function, as I mention in the post.

      Surely it can’t be just be left to volunteers to keep people informed, to access important questions about power, reveal stuff to us about what’s happening and give people insight as mainstream media withdraws from local communities?

      I notice from your e-mail address that you’re from the University of Portsmouth? Perhaps I can point you to the work of the Centre for Community Journalism, who might be able to shed some light about the importance to local democracy of a vibrant local press. And for an example of a community media outlet in Portsmouth, familiarise yourself with the excellent Express and Star, whose investigative journalism is of an incredibly high quality (and they’re going down the same path as us in attempting to become sustainable). You could do a lot worse than get some work experience there!

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