A lot has changed in local journalism since the Advertiser began in 1854, and as the 21st century rolls on the changes keep coming. However, I believe local newspapers still play as vital a part in our lives now as they did more than 150 years ago.
This week we launch our ‘Local News Matters’ campaign, highlighting the importance of local journalism.
As the reporter for the Midlothian Advertiser and The Buteman newspapers, I have seen major changes since I joined, what was then, Johnston Press in February 2009, working in Fife.
When I moved to the Advertiser in October 2012, I and two other reporters were overseen by an editor, while we had a full-time photographer taking photos on week days and a freelance photographer available every Saturday to cover sport.
We were based at the Scotsman’s Holyrood office, a hive of activity with hundreds of staff covering editorial, advertising and photography.
Fast forward six years and I am now the sole news reporter for the Advertiser and The Buteman. Given the advances in technology, I am able to report on events for both titles working remotely from home in Edinburgh.
A reorganisation within the company last year means I report to the Scottish weeklies editor (and former Advertiser colleague) Janet Bee, who oversees 22 titles, covered by 13 reporters. This is the stark reality the local newspaper industry faces these days, with print in sharp decline since the turn of the century.
However, I firmly believe local journalism is as important now as it has ever been.
Despite a fall in circulation numbers for our print edition, the Advertiser reaches thousands online every day meaning it is read by more people than ever before. Our readers are able to communicate with us directly through social media and immediately share their views on the stories affecting their communities.
It is this connection with the residents of Midlothian that for me is the key point to local journalism.
We keep readers informed of the stories that mean the most to them – whether that be changes to local services by Midlothian Council or stories of achievements by local people and community groups. I know that the appetite for local news is greater than ever. And with Midlothian the fastest growing local authority area in Scotland, the need to keep local residents up to speed with the news directly affecting them is only going to continue to increase.
What the local newspaper industry – or, more correctly these days, multimedia industry – has to contend with is that people now want to consume news in a multitude of ways.
Thousands of people are still regular buyers of the printed product and there will always be a place for that in some shape or form. But, nowadays, there are so many other options for people – websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.
We increasingly want to check updates on the move so desktop PCs and even laptops are being ditched in favour of smart phones. All this can present a bit of a headache for news organisations and we are constantly having to reinvent how we do things.
One of the most recent positive changes we have seen in our company is the introduction this year of the Local News Partnership, between the BBC and the regional news industry, with around 100 local democracy journalists now busy filing copy on local councils the length and breadth of the country. Essentially, they work as agency reporters – everything they file can be accessed by every newsroom, which has signed up to the Local News Partnership, including myself covering the Advertiser and The Buteman.
These reporters are funded by the licence fee, but they are not employed by the BBC. Instead, they work for local newspapers and contribute greatly to political reporting in their patch, holding councils to account.