The inevitability of the closure of yet more local newspapers across Wales is no consolation for those who have already lost their jobs. The latest newspapers to fall victim to print media cuts are the Neath and Port Talbot Guardians. Their owner, Media Wales, has decided to close them due to the ‘tough economic times.’
A range of AMs and MPs have expressed their feelings about the closures. These have ranged from the vaguely disappointed (Alun Ffred Jones) to the ill-informed (Hywel Francis) to the plain ranty (Bethan Jenkins).
The fuss about the closure of these two titles is at odds with the inactivity of the Welsh Assembly. They are still failing to get to grips with the problems facing the Welsh media. One report after another has made useless, impractical and often wrong recommendations about how to rescue Welsh press and broadcasting. This inaction has been a factor in the demise of the Welsh print media. However, it has not been the only factor.
The failure of the Welsh government has been mirrored by the inability of the print media outlets to change and refine their output. They too have not responded to the problem. This inability to change and respond to the problems they face looks a lot like falling on one’s sword. If there is still a place for the local newspaper (and I am not sure there is) they need to make changes quickly. The ability to view local, regional, national and international news at the click of a button has made them largely obsolete. The remaining strength of the local newspaper lies in reporting things that don’t make it out of the area. The trouble is that in becoming ever more reliant on press releases and producing a torrent of worthless, badly written drivel, they have lost their market.
Good local reporting will always find an audience whether it’s online or in print, it is this that they no longer do. And it is this that makes them not only obsolete but also largely worthless.
The argument that plurality of media is central to the functioning of a democratic society is a cornerstone of media theory. But should it really be applied to defend some of the newspapers we see going under? The defence of plurality is often churned out despite the fact that the newspapers in question aren’t any good. Too often in our local rags we see press-releases rewritten and fashioned into an imitation of news. There is too little actual journalism and too little writing that challenges those in local government.
However, the mantra of plurality has been repeated so often it is now used to defend the sort of newspapers we would be better off without. One such classic example of this type of journalism is about to bite the dust in my old hometown. The dire Wrexham Chronicle, a poorly subbed, badly designed, ugly little free-sheet, is now to close. Sad as it is for those journalists involved, it is categorically not a tragedy for the plurality of the local media.
The importance of plurality is that it gives readers a range of perspectives on social and political issues. It creates debate and holds those who are in power to account.
True plurality is plurality of opinion, and a variety of opinions is sadly not guaranteed by having a variety of local newspapers. Local newspapers have become so homogenous you can rarely tell them apart. They cover similar sorts of events week in week out and year after year.
If we only value local newspapers for the contribution they make to the plurality of the media, we are surely missing the point aren’t we?
It is what they say that matters – not the fact that they are there.
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