When you think about what makes a community, it isn’t just the local post office and annual village fete that brings people together. For decades, the local newspaper has been a valued institution in Britain, giving communities a voice and raising issues confined to small groups of people. But it doesn’t take much to see that the concept of what makes a local newspaper – both online and print – is changing. It’s easy to question whether the purpose it serves will soon be a thing of the past.
As I flick through a few local online news websites today, I don’t just learn about what’s going on in the community. I also learn when the next series of Love Island starts, find out about Gemma Collins’ new reality show, and see what Holly Willoughby wore on today’s This Morning. While these stories probably garner lots of hits, you have to question why they’re on a website dedicated to news on the community.
Local newspapers losing their community feel is part of a wider issue of towns in general facing a similar fate. The issue of ‘clone towns’ – high streets that are dominated by chain stores – is one example of communities becoming alike. Those that are facing copious shop closures risk losing all sense of identity. It looks like local newspapers are also losing the same kind of feel as some of their stories could be covered in a publication dedicated to anywhere in the UK. And given that a quarter of them closed between 2008 and 2018, it looks like they could soon become scarce as well.
But it’s not all doom and gloom, as there have been some attempts to save local news reporting, or at least embrace a new format. The BBC launched the Local Democracy Reporting Service to create up to 150 new journalism jobs that would involve reporting on local democracy issues in the UK, allocating the journalists to various news organisations. Perhaps another saviour to local newspapers is the fact that many are broadening what they report on? As people increasingly view news online, stories that aren’t local could be what act as the clickbait on social media, before readers go on and read about what’s happening in the community. In that sense, non-local news is in fact what is needed to keep local newspapers alive.
Beyond the lonely hearts and properties for sale, in local newspapers lies a platform for a community to get its voice heard. As the way that we consume media and content changes, the local newspaper industry must adapt, and fingers crossed recent moves it has taken will ensure it doesn’t get left behind.
Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.