Posts Tagged 'local news'

Three chairs for local news

Some days you just have to love it when the following come together.

1. A wonderful non-story that all local journalists will have filed at some point or another that gets posted up on a local newspaper website.

2. A comments facility.

3. People with a sense of humour.

The result: 75 comments on a story on the Westmorland Gazette about a chair being set on fire.

This may, quite possibly, be one of the bestest things I’ve found on the internet this week đŸ™‚

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Local radio dying a long, drawn-out death

It’s not a great time to be working in local radio at the moment. In fact, if you’re a fan of local radio, it’s probably not great to be a listener either.

After axing the distinctive Late Night Love show and DJ Graham Torrington, and rebranding virtually all of their distinctively named local stations across the UK as Heart, Global Radio (formerly GCap) have now announced further cutbacks.

Chief among these are the scrapping of local news bulletins between 11am and 3pm, to be replaced with a national news bulletin, and the outsourcing of its travel news.

Granted, this will save money. It’s also so short-sighted it’s beyond belief. By consolidating assorted operations, Global is slowly, bit-by-bit, taking away every last remnant of what makes local radio stations unique.

The rebranding of Heart was bad enough. Having worked for many different local radio stations over the years, one constant in terms of feedback was just how much listeners connected with the individual identity of each station.

It didn’t matter that the stations were owned by the same group. By having their own name and own identity, each station found its own particular niche to serve the community it broadcasted to. Take that away, and you’ve got a standardised, somewhat London centric service with a few local DJs.

But at least there was the local news to keep listeners up to date. Now that’s just limited to breakfast and drivetime. So, if there’s a breaking or ongoing story on that station’s patch, presumably listeners will be bereft of updates during the day (of course, this could be offset by fully utilising the web for breaking news, but I’m not holding my breath).

It also takes away another part of that local connection to listeners. Why should I listen to town X’s Heart when I can’t even find out, hourly, what’s going on in my area.

Given that I’ve got a vast array of internet or digital stations out there, or even alternative stations still on FM, what’s the incentive for me, as a local listener, to tune in? Less than there was before, that’s for sure.

I’m not entirely sure what the outsourcing of the traffic news will be, but this could be an even bigger mistake than cutting back on news.

Again, from my time in local radio, the traffic lines and traffic news was the one thing you’d be guaranteed to get listeners AND interaction. If we’d missed a jam or accident, you could be darn sure we’d get half a dozen calls letting us know.

Traffic news, especially for commuters, is vital. Reduce the quality of that service and you’re going to lose a significant chunk of your audience who tune in specifically to find out if they’re going to face delays on the drive home. This could be Global’s biggest mistake.

What’s more, cutting these positions (and the 25 jobs they estimate will be lost sounds like a VERY conservative estimate to me) will have an even worse effect on aspiring journalists.

There’s already more BJTC trained journalists than there are positions and cutting more news jobs will drive down wages, further depress an already demoralised workforce and make it harder for aspiring young broadcast journalists to find a position, unless they’ve already got something lined up with the BBC.

And for all the commercial stations complain about the BBC’s advantage in local radio, they hardly help their cause by greeting bland identikit stations that sound the same from Land’s End to John O’Groats and offer practically zero competition now to the Beeb.

The radio journalism industry is already haemorraging talented reporters. Of the group I trained with, I’d estimate between 1/5th and 1/3rd have already quit the profession and, speaking to others, I’d expect that percentage to rise.

I love local radio. I love the medium of radio full stop. It’s a job that I loved doing, and would have loved to continue doing. But, the more I see of the state of local commercial radio, the more I’m glad I got out when I did.

A few years ago, if anybody had asked me about getting into radio journalism, I’d have enthused and encouraged them into a wonderfully vibrant and creative industry.

Now, I’d simply tell them not to bother.

Local news FAIL

Sometimes I fear I give the Express and Echo – the newspaper for my home city of Exeter – somewhat of a rough ride. Given I know the area better than most papers, their site is one I tend to visit on a more regular basis than others, hence my worry that any criticisms are probably no more than nitpicking on my part.

And then I get days like today, where the criticism is checked least it becomes too cutting.

Why? Like many others, I’ve been somewhat glued to the ongoing news around the economic crisis, and yesterday came the news that local authorities across the country had significant sums of money tied up in the Icelandic banking system. Devon’s council’s, at first, didn’t appear among them.

I was out last night, so didn’t get time to check again until this morning when the first place I read about it was on Exeter City matchday programme editor Mike Blackstone’s football blog (yes, I check my football feeds before anything else. Force of habit).

Seeing Exeter City Council’s name on the list made me search for more. Naturally, the first place I headed was the Echo’s site, only to forget they don’t post their full articles online immediately, so instead I found this:

COUNCIL leaders are battling to recover millions of pounds invested in Iceland’s troubled banks.

But they are attempting to ease fears public services could be affected, claiming there is “no short-term risk” despite the crisis.

The reassurance comes amid the news South West councils have hefty cash deposits in several financial institutions, including high street banks.

Despite initial reports that Devon’s councils did not have investments in collapsed Icelandic banks, it has now emerged that Exeter City Council has £5m invested, including £3m with Landsbanki and a £2m on deposit with Glitnir.

For the full story see Friday’s paper.

Which told me absolutely nothing whatsoever that I didn’t already know. 

Incidentally, in between starting this blog post ten minutes ago (11.10pm) and now, the full text has become available. A bit too late, really as I’d already found what I needed to know elsewhere.

A quick Google News search found much better articles on the Exmouth Herald’s site (which is a much smaller paper) and the sister site of Devon-wide paper, the Western Morning News. The latter was understandably Devon-centric but also told me, for the first time, that Mid Devon District Council – which covers where my family live – also had a lesser sum of money tied up in an Icelandic bank.

Had the full Echo article been online at that point in time, I wouldn’t have needed to go elsewhere to find this out. Nor try and fill in the Exeter-specific gaps that I simply couldn’t find anywhere else.

A cursory search of del.icio.us and Digg didn’t turn up anything, not was there anything more specific on the blog searches. None of these were a massive surprise (although possibly says something about social media, or lack of takeup, and Devon). Had I had time, I’d have searched WordPress tags.

As it is, I sent off a couple of emails to friends I was fairly sure would be in the know, and got most of the information through that. I did briefly consider ringing up the press office at the council to find out more, and then blog it [1] (which raises another interesting point about blogs and citizen journalism, but I’ll leave that for another time).

[In case you’re asking why I’m so interested, it’s because this used to be my reporting patch and was home for around 21 years, so I tend to take a strong interest, even if I don’t live there any more].

So, you may say, what does this matter. In some respects, it doesn’t. I’m just one person writing on a probably not very widely read blog about something that irks me. Hell, it’s not as if there aren’t enough of *those* around.

But, on the other hand, it’s still a potential eyeball that they’re losing elsewhere. As soon as I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I wet elsewhere. Now they’ve actually stuck the article up, I clicked around the site without ever really thinking.

And, what really gets to me, is they have the news, but I have to spend a bit longer searching elsewhere to find it. As a result, I’ve now pulled together several Devon-related news feeds from assorted sources meaning I don’t have to go back to the site unless there’s something of burning interest.

I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only person with ties to Exeter who checks all their news online each morning rather than in the paper, and has a decent set of RSS news feeds relevant to their interests.

The world’s a global place. People have moved around. Yet I suspect I’m also not alone in being a person who keeps tabs on the news ‘back home’ even though I no longer live there. To be unable to access this news on the basis that you don’t live within the paper’s sales area is crazy. We’re global citizens, but we’d still like hyperlocal news for areas we’re connected to m’kaaay?

[Again, another question here – in this current economic climate would it be worth the site offering the paper online on a subscription basis? I’ll leave that one dangling.]

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a little moan about this particular pet peeve, and it probably won’t be the last.

It’s a shame because, as I often point out, there’s a lot I like and respect about the Echo – both in the paper and on the website.

I can get Exeter City news elsewhere (and did a long time before I moved). Big national stories of interest occurring in Exeter I can also get elsewhere (although recognise the nationals probably will have a more general overview than the excellent local reporting you often get in these situations).

But this is the first time there’s been a specific local story I’ve been keen to read. I suspect that it won’t be too long before I can get most information on any further local stories I want to find out more about without having to wait until 11pm to read the full article.

A quick plea to finish: please, please, please, any local papers who partake in this habit – open your articles up. It really will help your brand and paper in the long run.

[1] Technically, although I work full-time in a non-journalism job, I can classify myself as freelance, even if it’s football and media writing and not reporting.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com