Harking back to golden eras never works out well: We need to keep experimenting
Andy Dickinson, Senior Lecturer in Multimedia Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University, believes journalism needs to be wary of ‘back to basics’ when it comes to digital news…
Which story from the local media will you remember from 2018 and why?
A few stories stood out for me as much for the way they were handled as the story itself. Stephanie Finnegan’s legal challenge in the Stephen Yaxley-Lennon trial stood out for me as a reminder of the role that local news still has is getting issues heard.
The will to challenge that in the knowledge of how Yaxley-Lennon’s followers would hit back, and the way that Leeds Live handled the inevitable fall out from that was exemplary.
Seeing similar challenges coming through, like the Littlehampton Gazette’s James Butler challenge in reporting a 16 year old involved in a stabbing, shows a real confidence in covering the ‘court and council’ that many would have you believe has gone from local news.
The MEN’s “The deaths they don’t count” also stood out, not just fas a story that needed to be told, but also how the team has really got stuck into keeping the story (and other stories) on the radar when Brexit has drowned everything else out.
I’d also give a mention to Michael Yong at the Bristol Post for his coverage of Student Mental Health at UWE. It’s an issue that looms large in my day job and I thought it was handled with tenacity but with a clear sensitivity towards the issue, especially on social media.
What has surprised you most about local journalism in 2018?
I continue to be surprised that in the face of all challenging and good investigative journalism like the stories I mentioned above, people still ask ‘is this really news?’
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing local journalism in 2019?
Funding. I really worry that consolidation in the industry might make for effective economies of scale but it reduces opportunities to seed fund innovation and encourage growth.
The BBC local democracy reporters scheme and more recently the Facebook/NCTJ initiative, whilst all commendable, are big schemes that only work with big players.
As well-meaning they may be, it’s hard not to see these as subsidies rather than investments when you limit the capacity of smaller concerns to participate.
The industry needs to decide what its long term strategy is, there’s no more room for scale, it needs to be investment at grass roots level.
What advice would you give to local journalists planning for 2019?
Learn some data journalism. Back up your phone. Check your passwords. Drink more water. Ask yourself ‘When I tell this story what difference does it make, who for and how would I know’ ‘Oh and book your holidays for April now.’
What do you hope will happen in 2019?
I hope that we can keep a spirit of innovation and experimentation in journalism. I get a sense that, to borrow a phrase from a recent report, there’s an emerging view that anything new is ‘shiny things syndrome’ and have no value compared to good old fashioned journalistic values.
It worries me that we think we can’t have both and I hope we don’t see a kind of ‘back to basics’ in journalism. If the current political climate shows us anything, pandering to the views of those that harp back to an imagined golden era don’t work out well.
What can local editors to make their newsrooms more attractive to students or people considering entering the profession?
I’m not sure I would say they need to change anything as much as be more open and transparent about what they do.
Journalism has always been a vocation and I think those that chose it do that because they’ve seen it in action. In that sense think we’ve got a broader problem with students seeing the value of journalism — thats something we all need to work out, not just newsrooms.
What do you think local newsrooms are doing wrong at the moment?
Not talking enough. I don’t mean that they have to be at the beck and call of audience. But the positive examples I’ve seen in local journalism include honest and active debates with the audience online.
It’s not always easy or what you may have planned to do on a Saturday evening , but people really value the input. It would be great to see some of that happen in the newsroom too.
I know it feels gimmicky but pop up newsrooms, more visible reporters are all ways to be part of not just the topic of conversation.
If you had one piece of advice for a local editor, what would it be?
As if they have any time in their day to listen to my advice.