Praise for campaign culture of local papers

Winner at last year’s press awards

Critics who blame the local press for political apathy are wrong, according to the head of a journalism college who has conducted a survey of campaigning journalism in the regions.

Dr Michael Temple, head of journalism at Staffordshire University, told the Political Studies Association annual conference at the University of Lincoln that many local newspapers were running campaigns that had generated reader interest.

“The electorate may not connect with its local and national political systems in the way it used to, but its involvement in campaigns that look at the practical consequences of political decisions – hospitals closing, street crime, local transport – demonstrates the possibility of a far from apathetic local community.”

Thirty years ago local newspapers in general were deferential towards the local elite, with the editor and the owners usually coming from the area.

“They were frankly full of boring, mindless rubbish. Now they are more ‘conflictual’,” he said.

The local press was more balanced and less sensationalist than the nationals – and more trusted, said Dr Temple, who welcomed the shift from tackling matters of public interest to matters that interest the public.

In his survey of local newspaper campaigns listed at www.holdthefrontpage.

com for 2000 to 2003, health and crime were the top topics every year. Few engaged with formal politics. “Local newspapers have to be careful not to identify too closely with one political party. They serve a geographical community and not an ‘ideological’ one,” said Temple.

He praised The Sentinel, Stoke-onTrent, The Citizen, Gloucester, the East Anglian Daily Times and Lincolnshire Echo for campaigns that attempted to engage readers in political systems.

By Richard Keeble

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