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06 July 2017

Newsquest CEO: Communities Need Trusted Local Journalism

The Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted the need for local authorities to be open and accountable to the public via a robust local press - and a series of local newspaper launches over the past year are signs that the tide may be starting to turn for the industry, according to a leader in The Times this week.  

“Most government is local. It is councils that fill potholes, collect rubbish, educate children and house their parents. They decide what buildings are built, what social care the elderly get and what public transport residents can use. They will spend more than £170 billion this year.

“Yet the regional media has dwindled in recent decades and too many local politicians have developed a taste for secrecy. Early signs of a local press revival are welcome, therefore, and councils should relish the opportunity to communicate with constituents.

“The behaviour of the leader of Kensington and Chelsea council [last] Thursday threw into sharp relief the waning standards of accountability in some town halls. Residents of the borough are angry, having seen friends and family killed in the fire at Grenfell Tower. Many have been displaced and some feel that they have received only sporadic assistance from the council.”

Commenting on the article, Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker said: “The role of trusted local journalism in communities is more important now than ever before. At times of heightened uncertainty, people turn to brands they can trust – local news brands in digital and print - to find out what’s going on. 

“That’s why you see many of our news brands now reaching online over 75 per cent of the people in their local markets each month – compare that to Facebook’s now plateauing audience penetration of 50 per cent.  

“In the commercial space, it’s important that advertisers better understand that local media offers a safe and highly trusted environment free from the risks associated with other digital platforms. In today’s media landscape, trust and context are of paramount importance for brands.   And people trust the content on local news brands websites more than three times they do on social media.*

“We believe strongly in a bright future for local newspapers.  As a company, we are continuing to invest in this vital sector of UK media.  In the last six months alone Newsquest has launched nine new local papers for local communities.”

The Times’ article cites challenges facing the industry such as competition from the public sector and the threats posed by the current digital landscape which does not fairly reward the investors in journalism, but goes on to cite title launches in Dorset by Newsquest as evidence of a revival.

The piece continued: “There are signs that the tide is starting to turn. Three Dorset newspapers have returned to print decades after the last copy was sold. The Christchurch Times, Bournemouth Herald and Poole Herald all go back into circulation this year. Meanwhile Sir Ray Tindle, whose company owns more than 200 local newspapers, has found that there is still profit in titles focused on small areas.”

It concluded: “These are promising developments, worthy of support. It is welcome, for instance, that a change in the law in force from today will mean that anyone can inspect councils’ financial records in person, regardless of whether they live in the borough. That will open up more channels of accountability to the public, via the press. Recent events in Kensington show how sorely that is needed. From the Palace of Westminster to a planning committee meeting, no politician should be able to govern as if no one is watching.”

*Comscore survey