This week sees the deadline for bids to run one of Britain’s twenty-one new local TV stations. Digital innovation will offer a lifeline to local media.
‘Local’ has taken a battering in recent years. Right across Britain, sales of the print editions of local newspapers are in free fall.
Readers have not disappeared: they’ve moved online. While sales of the print edition of the Manchester Evening News, for example, fell 9.5% in the last six months of 2011, daily traffic on the paper’s website was up 26.1% (Audit Bureau of Circulation).
There’s still an appetite for local news: but the traditional business model is under threat. Advertising revenue – the life blood of local newspapers – is being mopped up by paid-for search engines. Local authority free sheets (dubbed ‘town hall Pravdas’ by community secretary Eric Pickles) continue to offer unfair competition to paid-for titles.
Things are not much better on the radio. Over recent years, commercial stations have lost their local accents, as consolidation by the big broadcast groups has shut down locally-produced shows. Plans by the BBC to slash its popular local programming have been curtailed – but will still mean many local shows are replaced with national content.
We need a strong and independent local media. Local journalists hold local government to account. Local media is part of the glue that holds civic society together. As I have learned from working on the National Conversation, local media is part of an invisible chain of communication that links people and communities with national politics. There’s nothing parochial about local.
So it’s great to see innovation in this sector. In York, One&Other is breathing new life into local with a community-based approach to journalism. One&Other is not running scared from digital and social media: they’ve embraced it.
The new digital TV channels also bring exciting opportunities. In Liverpool, Phil Redmond believes the channels will deliver the first ever genuinely local TV: a platform for people who care about their community and where they live.
Today local may be down – but it’s not out. A new generation of local content producers – built on and around digital technology – will mean distinctive independent local voices will still be heard. And that’s good news for everyone.