Oxford and District NUJ has always stood up for local news, arguing that strong news gathering is vital to local democracy. Now this matters more than ever, as more and more local newsrooms are being expected to do their job with fewer and fewer people.
That’s why we’re supporting the NUJ’s Local News Matters Week, starting this Friday (24th March).
We know that our heavily overstretched local journalists continue to serve their communities, as shown in the examples here, but it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do their jobs well.
Two years ago the Newsquest-owned Oxford Mail made almost all subeditors redundant and shortly afterwards the editor left and was not replaced. The papers are now edited by a group editor in charge of 11 titles across Oxfordshire and Wiltshire.
Since then, events in Newsquest’s South London titles indicate that the group is prepared to make crippling cuts in the number of reporters. Even their own editor has admitted it is impossible to provide a news service with this level of staffing. Reporters have been told not to cover court cases or politics or even stories from their own local patches.
While the Oxford Mail has not gone this far, we are already seeing cheaper content squeezing out local news: for example, the Herald Group now carries several opinion pieces by amateurs (aka “community columnists”) where we would rather see hard news by trained journalists.
Newsquest’s policy has left swathes of South London with no effective news service. We want to stop that happening to news services in this area.
In a double whammy, BBC local news services are now facing £15 million of cuts, equivalent to around 200 jobs. At the same time, the BBC is being asked to pay £8 million to local newspapers to finance so-called “local democracy reporters”. . We are concerned that this measure will do nothing to improve the quality of local news reporting and will amount to a subsidy from licence fee payers to shareholders of Newsquest’s US parent company Gannett and others. There is already evidence that some newspaper groups are viewing the BBC-funded post in this way (see under NUJ submissions and briefings 2017).
The NUJ is now calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the state of local news, while the Oxford and District NUJ and our chapels at the Oxford Mail and BBC Oxford are working to stem the threat of further job cuts locally.
The good news is that we still have a local news infrastructure that is diverse, dynamic and developing fast. It is hard to say now where it will end up, but we are calling for increasing investment from a range of sources for quality local journalism. Meanwhile, we still have plenty to celebrate so this week is also about reminding people of the contributions that local journalists have made to their communities. Follow the #LocalNewsMatters campaign on social media to hear more.