The last week of March marked Local News Matters week, an initiative developed by the National Union of Journalist [NUJ].
The week was in reaction to the year-on-year job losses and newspaper closures that have proliferated the local news industry nationally. The Bristol NUJ and representatives of the region’s local media, including the Chew Valley Gazette, kickstarted the campaign with a debate at Bristol’s Watershed.
A panel of nine which included the editor of the Bristol Post Mike Norton, veteran BBC Points West journalist Steve Brodie, ITV West news editor Ben Hagitt and the Gazette’s editor Selina Cuff all shared the challenges their outlets currently face.
These challenges include generating revenue, social media and celebrity opinion being treated as news by both journalists and consumers, the impact of the digital age on the industry and restricted resources in terms of manpower and time.
Mike Norton of the Bristol Post which has experienced significant staff reductions in recent years said that despite claims to the contrary the Post is enjoying the best audience levels in years and that he has a staff of 28 reporters covering 50 stories a day.
Regional outlets ITV and the BBC have also seen reductions and journalists have now become multi-functional not only in terms of coverage but roles, being photographer, filmmaker and journalist in one.
The BBC’s Steve Brodie warned that cuts and time pressures mean the old ways of gathering a news story, going out and interacting with those involved, were being lost. Mr Brodie began his journalism career as a parish council reporter for the Farnham Herald, a job given to him by the Gazette’s owner Sir Ray Tindle, 45 years ago. Now dedicated roles like parish council reporter do not exist and traditional organisations are streamlining coverage.
This however has opened up opportunities for media outlets like Bristol Cable, Made in Bristol and Vocalise who say they serve the community by doing what the big organisations no longer will. For Bristol Cable it is investigative pieces, Made in Bristol two-hour long local news programmes, and Vocalise focused coverage on an often marginalised community.
Whilst panel members remarked on the necessity of generating revenue something community-funded Cable and Vocalise are yet to do, Gazette editor Selina Cuff stated that without professionally sound journalism and strong news content papers would lose readers and advertisers would soon follow.
The entire debate filmed by UWE journalism students can be watched at www.bristolnuj.org.uk