As part of the great series of Harris Lectures put on by UCLan’s journalism department, we were honoured yesterday with the words and thoughts of Roy Greenslade.
Roy made every journalism student in the theatre jealous and disheartened with his tales of 1960s Fleet Street through to Wapping and where we are now.
Roy rightly asserted that there’s no one reason why newspapers are seeing sales plummet. It was refreshing to see a hack from the heyday of Fleet Street recognise that the internet isn’t the sole destroyer of the newspaper industry, though many of his peers do.
Having read his critique of the re-design of the Lancashire Telegraph’s front page I asked Roy whether newspapers need to accept more of the blame as to why their sales are declining, especially in respect to locals like the LT who are going increasingly downmarket.
Roy agreed they did. He cited the main problem was that local news has lost itself and lost any idea of what its readers want.
“Local newspapers will go out and do surveys and find justification for whatever it is the editor wants to do. The problem is readers don’t know what they want.
“But what they don’t want is crime stories dominating the front pages of their local newspapers in large sans fonts. I spend six months of the year in Donegal, a place where six regional newspapers
are in competition, and every day their issues fly from news stands. The news they report is much more gentler.”
I think he’s right. A local newspaper should be the voice of the community it serves. One doesn’t foster a community by scaring it on a daily basis with hyped-up shock crime stories. This is a key difference between the national and local press which has been lost on corporatised regional publishers. People do like reading bad news, as long as it’s not happening on their own street.
Preston was in the news this week for having the most crime-ridden street in the country, based on a map produced by police.uk. Never mind the story was bollocks, some glitch with the system put all crimes committed in Preston city centre on one street. What did local Preston paper, the Lancashire Evening Post run with as its main story? Yeah you guessed it.
Did they contact local police officers to confirm the statistics like the BBC did? No they didn’t, they rehashed press release quotes from Theresa May. Fire all the defences at me “regional news producers are making cuts” “regional journalists are overworked and underpaid”, a five minute phone call would have changed this story.
If regional publishers want to turn their fortunes around, there’s a lot of systematic rot to combat. Blaming external factors doesn’t help anyone.