Editor’s Letter: Why ‘no news is bad news’ in our communities

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Some of the attendees of a community reporters' training course last year. Photo: John Baron

By John Baron

From 3 – 9 June, the UK’s independent publishers are marking Indie News Week, a chance to celebrate publications like West Leeds Dispatch which are dedicated to delivering quality news to their communities.

As editor, I’m enormously proud of what we have achieved here at WLD over the past nine years, despite relatively few resources and only a small budget.

Our team of volunteer-led community reporters (whose training was funded by the National Lottery) have, in the past few weeks alone, shone a light on controversial planning applications, highlighted council decisions no-one would have known about otherwise, celebrated the achievements of local people and connected readers to the fantastic array of community groups and services which people may not know about otherwise. Our latest course ended on Thursday.

Yesterday our hot-off-the-press quarterly printed newspaper arrived at our community newsroom, featuring content from 27 different community reporters. We already have a team of volunteers ready to distribute the paper to pick up points across West Leeds from tomorrow.

But according to the Press Gazette, the local news sector has shrunk by three-quarters since 2007. In Leeds there are far fewer local journalists than there was even five years ago, let alone 30 years ago when I first started as a young trainee at the now defunct Leeds Weekly News.

So-called “news deserts” are expanding rapidly in the UK, with many local titles struggling financially and, increasingly, local journalists no longer living and working in their communities and covering their patch remotely.

We’re not owned or run by a big national company, but our operations are overseen by a hard-working but small band of local people who sit as our trustees and guide West Leeds Community Media through these difficult times for local media. We have our own set of editorial values.

With that in mind, the inaugural Indie News Week theme is ‘no news is bad news’, highlighting how independent publishers – like those of us behind West Leeds Dispatch – are fighting back and attempting to bridge the gap left behind by mainstream media as it withdraws from communities.

west leeds dispatch board
West Leeds Dispatch board: (from left): Noel Akers, Jill Stocks, Diane Law, Iola Shaw and Anne Akers. Front row: John Baron.

Dark clouds

There are – however – dark clouds on the horizon for WLD. Today (Sunday) is the second day after our three-year National Lottery funding expired. We have another bid in for follow-up funding, and we hope to hear in the next four to six months whether this has been successful. But funding is tough to come by and there’s no guarantee of this.

Spearheaded by the Public Interest News Foundation (PINF), The ‘No News is Bad News’ campaign aims to show how a well-informed community is more able to act together to shape its own future and that local news is fundamental to a healthy democratic society and invaluable in helping to create strong and connected communities. 

“Indie news providers are the unsung heroes of local communities across the UK, unearthing stories and informing their audiences,” said Jonathan Heawood, PINF’s Executive Director. 

“Through Indie News Week, we want to say thank you to the enterprising journalists and editors who make up this sector and help them connect even more deeply with their communities.”

How to support genuine community led news

  • Come and meet some of our team this week!

On Wednesday we are holding a fun and informal community quiz night at the Owl in Rodley (8pm start), and on Thursday our community newsroom at Bramley Lawn Social Centre will be open 5-7pm where you can come and meet me over a cuppa for a chat about what’s happening in West Leeds, perhaps to tip us off about a story we should be covering. Or maybe you would like to get more involved as a volunteer at WLD? More details of both events can be found here. We’d love to see you!

The days of a daily paper delivered to your door may be gone, but you can still have your daily dose of news delivered directly to your inbox every day at 7am. 

No need to even get out of bed, just open your eyes, open your e-mails and there it is.

If you like what we do, then we would love it if you could make a regular donation to support and help us continue our work. We ask for either £5 or £10 a month to support our work. You can also set up a standing order or make a one-off donation directly to us, simply e-mail accounts@westleedsdispatch.com for more details. Imagine what we could achieve with more resources!

In May WLD had almost 140,000 age impressions on our website and distributed 5,000 copies of our print edition, but we would love to be able to reach more people. Please share our links on your street’s WhatsApp group or on Facebook, help an older neighbour sign up for our daily e-mail, or give a friend a physical copy of WLD.

By far the best way to spread the word in West Leeds about your organisation or business is to become a Partner (like Farsley’s Sunny Bank Mills, see below)! Our partnerships come with amazing benefits for you and your business as well as offering you discounts on any further advertising/advertorials you would like.

Indie News Week – let’s keep local independent news rolling!

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