It’s more than 20 years since I hung up my shorthand notebook and left regional journalism for PR, so it was with great interest that I accepted an invitation from a client to attend the recent Regional Press Awards lunch.
What kind of work would be showcased? And more importantly, what would the atmosphere be like given the seismic changes being felt across the industry? Local and regional media is an industry that is literally fighting for its life, trying urgently to redefine its role against a tsunami of technological and social change.
In some ways, everything has changed and nothing has changed in my time out of the regional media.
The buzz of a room full of journalists – the sheer power of that collective intelligence and willpower – was exactly the same. While the Mayfair hotel venue may have been swanky, the atmosphere was that of any newsroom – lively, chatty, funny and with a razor-sharp eye on the next story.
Digital journalism – the good and the bad
What has undoubtedly changed is the impact of technology on news, and the new opportunities – and pressures – that digital working brings.
On the positive side, digital journalism can connect with local audiences in new and more powerful ways. Trinity Mirror rightly took home the Digital Award for the work of its Data Unit, a pioneer in the field.
The judges commended its ability to provide a valuable local resource (e.g. how good is your GP?) – as well as giving the national media a vital source of evidence-based storytelling.
On the negative side, the temptation for journalism to descend into ‘click-bait’ must be hard to resist for media outlets where page impressions are an important measure of success. I sincerely hope that the future of regional journalism doesn’t become the ‘digital leaderboard’, with individual reporters ranked by volume of story hits and nothing else.
But what hit me more than anything as the winners trooped up to the stage was the power of campaigning regional journalism. From the Liverpool Echo’s 27-year Hillsborough campaign, to individual reporters unearthing tragic stories such as the attack on disabled pensioner Alan Barnes, the local media has a vital role to play in holding society to account.
For me, this is where the real power of local journalism lies. Whatever the bright and shiny new digital opportunities on the horizon, I sincerely hope it will be protected for the future.