Friday, 6 July 2012

Is your local newspaper a 'community asset'?

Sad to hear today that Johnston Press plans to close five more of its local newspaper offices in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire as cutbacks at the company continue.

http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/ tells us that the regional publisher is to shut the main offices of the Matlock Mercury and Ripley and Heanor News together with those of the South Yorkshire Times in Mexborough and two satellite offices of the Mansfield Chad in Mansfield town centre and Sutton-in-Ashfield.

Of course, this is a trend that we have seen across most of the local newspaper publishers all over the UK in recent years – and every announcement is bad news for local democracy. Just when you think these companies really can’t make any more cuts without affecting the quality of their products they find a way to chip away at resources yet again.

Those papers in south Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that are to close their local offices, will still continue. But taking away the office in the local area is an important link with the local community cut.  Local journalists (of which I am one) continue to work against the odds to defend and campaign for their communities and for local democracy in the face of continuing cuts.

One of our local MPs here in west Wales, Plaid Cymru’s Jonathan Edwards, who represents Carmarthenshire East, has called for local newspapers to be given protected status as ‘community assets’ in order to protect their “often unique and historical blend of community news and investigation”. 

Questioning the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport recently, Mr Edwards expressed concern about the decline of the print newspaper industry, including local papers, which he said are “represented by many excellent talented journalists who are embedded in their community”

He adds:  “The Localism Act created a form of ‘community assets’ which could not be sold off without consultation. If local papers could be included in this definition then it would recognise their local importance and prevent owners from closing down newspapers overnight and give time for new owners to come in, perhaps including a takeover by the local community

“As the powers for this are in Westminster, I have pushed the Secretary of State to expand the category of ‘community assets’ to include local newspapers and allow the Welsh Government to be able to do this to save any newspapers in Wales which come under threat.”

As more offices are closed, more newspapers merged, or produced from a distance from the communities they are supposed to represent, I wonder just how much longer our local newspapers will deserve the title ‘community asset’.