Editor’s comment: Think before you dismiss the local press


- Credit: Archant

In the space of a few hours this week, the Islington Gazette was accused by a former councillor of making up a story simply to damage Labour’s chances in the election, and by a random member of the public of being a mouthpiece for the same party.

Days earlier, a Labour councillor from that group we apparently are too afraid to piss off had specifically telephoned me because they were, well, pissed off at the way they had been portrayed in one of our stories. Ever feel like you can’t win?

The job of a journalist is necessarily one in which you ruffle feathers. And that’s OK. People with agendas, who are often great sources of tip-offs, tend to perceive balance as bias. People with egos don’t generally like seeing themselves through other people’s eyes, rarely considering that this might be how they genuinely come across. And so on.

But in the seven years since the Leveson inquiry, these kneejerk reactions have become hopelessly mixed up with all kinds of completely valid concerns about illegal and unethical behaviour by newspapers stretching over decades. The consequence is that our reputations are shot. People who don’t like us now think we are unaccountable and permanently acting at the fringes of legality just because we have annoyed them. Truth is, we are bound by some of the strictest media law in the world, and a tough new regulatory body that can fine us. We don’t have a lot of money. We have to do our jobs well or we’ll go out of business.

The process of building trust in local papers is a slow one but, to be blunt, a race against time before the bottom falls out of the industry. Now, more than ever, we need the support of the readers our national competitors have systematically alienated. No, you can’t believe everything you read, but you can believe us. We can’t afford for you not to.

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