Former regional newspaper editor Neil Fowler has claimed the current furore over phone-hacking and press standards has become a diversion from the more pressing issue of whether local newspapers can survive in the current economic climate.
Former Which? editor Fowler is currently a research fellow at Oxford University’s Nuffield College, where he has been studying the decline of local newspapers for more than a year. He has edited some of the UK’s biggest regional titles including the Lincolnshire Echo, Derby Evening Mail, The Journal in Newcastle and the Cardiff-based Western Mail.
At a joint committee on injunctions and privacy yesterday he was asked whether he was frustrated by the PCC‘s failure to prevent the phone-hacking scandal, and replied: ‘I believe this been a huge diversion from what really matters in newspapers right now, and that is the financial state of the regional and local newspaper industry. I think you should be looking at that rather than this business.”
He continued: “Thirty to thirty-five million people touch on a local newspaper every week in the UK. The financial model has changed dramatically and these guys [Sunday Herald editor Richard Walker, The Sunday Sun editor Matt McKenzie, The Scotsman editor John McLellan and Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray] who work at the sharp end each day are facing the real issues, which is can their newspapers survive? Can there be a newspaper scrutinising local MPs, local authorities and local courts going forward?
“This is a big diversion because regional and local newspapers act in a certain way and nationals in another way, and this is taking away from what we should really be discussing.’