Local stories, local photographs, local democracy

January 25, 2017

 

Introduction

One of the great community builders used to be your local paper.  Sadly, many local papers are under cost pressure and laying off staff and reducing coverage.  Last year my local paper made its entire photographic staff redundant.  It now relies on reporters with cameras and readers supplying low quality camera phone pictures or, even worse, illustrating a local story with a Google Maps image.

Local papers are seldom if ever willing to pay freelance photographers and, in my own experience either steal photographs without payment or simply do not cover a story that a freelance has exclusive coverage. 

The reverse of the above argument is that the public pay for what they value, the dramatic fall in local newspaper sales (and thus leading to a fall in advertising revenue) reflects the expectation that news should be “free” and delivered via the internet.  This is a sub text to the devaluation of factual news and its replacement by “alternative facts” and false news powered thought the low cost, low friction, internet. 

While I am sure that most people are intelligent enough to differentiate factual reporting and photography from “alternative facts” and heavily (and normally badly) photoshoped pictures, that is not always the case.

Local reporters and local photographers were a key source of unbiased local community representation, there loss is not only bad news for local communities, football clubs and schools but a loss to democracy.  

 A local murder

 

Loss of community coverage 

As well as covering national stories from Downing Street to the Supreme Court; I feel it is a duty to cover local events as well, if only to fill the gaps left by the loss of photographers from the local paper.  As I cover local football (Go Brentwood FC), local school events or even mayoral events, I am often in receipt of complaints about the lack of coverage in the local press.  The partial or complete closure of an important news channel heavily impacts local sporting and voluntary organisations. 

Local schools used to get their concerts and plays photographed and reported on by local newspapers. Local protests and concerns used to be regularly reported.  This seldom happens in the new environment.  Why is this important?  Communities need to know what is going on in their surroundings.  Otherwise decisions will be taken, assumptions made about what the local communities want on the basis of very little hard evidence.  Local consultations are meaningless if they are both not known about and the relevant information is not available. 

A recent consultation on the merger of two local health trusts was announced on Twitter!  So the demographic groups likely to be most affected, the elderly or those with mental health issues are also the groups least likely to get their information from Twitter.

 Becket Keys School works with Google on VR lessons

Pre-packaged news

One of the outcomes from the reduction in photographers and reporters is the growth of user generated pre-packaged news.  The organisation that wants to “sell” a story, be it a local health trust or a local political party, writes their own press release and produces their own photographs and sometimes even video, which is packaged up and delivered to local news outlets.  Thus the story that is being told has been framed by the organisation selling the story and is seldom if ever subject to crucial journalistic enquiry and investigation, another blow to local democracy.

 A local police incident

Conclusion

Local newspaper reporters and photographers play a vital role in local democracy.  The erosion of this skill base is a threat to local communities.  The rise of “alternative facts” and false news will soon spread down the food chain to local media outlets and alternative forms of news distribution such as Facebook and Twitter.

A sad day for local democracy and good storytelling of local events.

 A Brentwood FC player removes his shirt...

 

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