Why be a local journalist in 2020?
As part of Journalism Matters week, the JPIMedia reporters in Sussex spoke about why it has never mattered more to them and the communities they serve. For anyone who wonders what motivates local journalists (clue: it’s not the hours or the glamour) here’s everything you need to know:
Senior reporter James Butler was named as weekly journalist of the year last month in the JPIMedia awards.
“We live in what seem like very dark and turbulent times. And that is why we are needed more than ever, because we are a light in the darkness: whether that is singing the praises of those unsung heroes in our community or exposing wrongdoing in the shadowy corners of authority.
“I recently wrote a story about a councillor being suspended for race-related Facebook comments, and was personally attacked online as a result. What I want the public to realise about journalists, particularly local journalists, is that we are people too: honest, hard-working people who love our jobs and are a far cry from the phone-hacking, bin-rummaging, morally-bankrupt click baiters that a saddeningly large section of the public seem to think we are. On social media, we are often criticised for only covering the bad news. But the truth is, that is a small proportion of the stories we do that Facebook prioritises on people’s newsfeeds. If you buy one of our papers, you will see the breadth and depth of our coverage of the communities we live in.”
Isabella Cipirska, senior reporter, said: “I am constantly amazed by the impact our stories have in the community. My report about a 12-year-old making facemasks on her sewing machine to raise money for charity saw her inundated with more than 100 requests from people keen to support her.
A story I wrote about the spike in homelessness among young people as a result of the pandemic saw a reader donate £1,000 to the organisation helping them. It reminds me that our stories make a real, tangible difference. We are part of the communities we serve, we take pride in them and we champion them. Local journalism matters.”
Sam Woodman, deputy editor at Worthing said: “Newspapers are many things to their readers: informer, entertainer, campaigner, and even a friend — never more important than in these unprecedented times. We are here to stand up for our communities and support people, often when they feel they have nowhere else to turn. There is nothing that makes me more proud than knowing we have made a positive difference. And nothing has the power to make that difference quite like a trusted local newspaper can.”
Gina Stainer, content editor for West Sussex County Times and Mid Sussex Times, said: “We’re here to make sure our communities have a voice, and to shine a spotlight on the issues that matter most to you, whether that be the future of the Drill Hall in Horsham and Clair Hall in Haywards Heath, or the huge outcry at plans to develop Rookwood Golf Course.”
Sam Dixon-French, senior reporter at the West Sussex County Times, said: “Journalism has never been more important, both to inform people but also to occasionally bring a smile to people’s faces at a challenging time.
We strive to report on the stories which matter to you and to support our communities, as we are with the Help Our Hospice campaign.”
Michael Mackenzie, content editor of the Hastings Observer series, said: “We are the trusted source of news to the communities we serve, holding authority to account and giving our readers a platform to voice their opinions on the issues that matter to them, and celebrate their successes.”
Elaine Hammond, communities champion for Sussex West, said: “I receive many messages thanking me for my articles, for highlighting a good cause or raising awareness of an important local issue, and these I truly value.
“They demonstrate just how important local journalism is to the people in the community and how much they appreciate the work that we do.”
India Wentworth, trainee reporter for the Eastbourne Herald, said: “I am still very new to this industry, but I can already see how much communities rely on local journalism and how important it is.
People care about what is going on around them, and we are the ones responsible for maintaining this crucial passage of communication.”
John Holden, senior reporter for the Worthing Herald, said: “Local journalism is even more vital as we live and work in the same communities as our readers, seeing what life is really like on the streets of our towns and villages. That puts us in the unique position of being able to meet our readers on a daily basis, giving a voice to local people who would otherwise go unheard.”
Annemarie Field, chief reporter at the Eastbourne Herald, said: “We are the eyes and ears of our readers and local journalism is at the core of what we do. More and more people are trusting local journalism as opposed to ‘news’ from untrusted sources on social media websites. As local journalists, we understand what is important to our communities and to coin a phrase ‘celebrate and mourn, champion and, sometimes, criticise with a true understanding of the area which we serve’.”
Richard Gladstone, senior reporter for the Hastings Observer series, said: “Local journalism has become even more important amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as people have sought the latest news on the crisis in a local context. I’ve been in the industry for 19 years and have seen how it plays a vital role in society.”
Katherine Hollisey-McLean, content editor for the Worthing Herald and Littlehampton Gazette, said: “I feel really privileged every week when people trust us to tell their stories, share in their celebrations and do our bit to help them through tough times. They do this because they can trust us, and that’s not something we take lightly. We work hard to ensure our journalism is accurate, fair, unbiased and serves the communities we live in. What matters to you really does matter to us, too.”
Sam Morton, senior reporter for the Chichester Observer, Bognor Regis Observer and Midhurst & Petworth Observer, said: “I take great pride in being a voice for the community and highlighting injustices faced by members of the public. The true value of journalism has been proved during the coronavirus pandemic, with local newspapers being a vital source of information about how the virus is affecting local communities, whilst also raising spirits with some heartwarming stories.”
Ginny Sanderson, senior reporter for the Eastbourne Herald series and engagement specialist for Sussex, said: “This pandemic has really shown the value of strong local journalism. Whether it’s reporting accurately and sensitively on covid-19 cases and deaths, or highlighting issues local people are having — we are there to support the community and give them a voice.
But it’s also been incredible to highlight some of the heartwarming human stories that have emerged when people are forced into an extraordinary situation. Whether it’s individuals setting up groups to deliver groceries to the elderly and vulnerable, or the small, poignant acts of kindness like a postal worker singing Happy Birthday to a shielding grandmother, or a neighbourhood arranging a pop-up ‘wedding’ for a couple whose big day was cancelled. These are the stories which we need to remind ourselves of in incredibly difficult times like these. We’re there to champion our community and that’s why journalism — and particularly local journalism — matters.”
Nikki Jeffery, content editor for the Chichester Observer series, said: “We are at the heart of our communities, celebrating our readers’ achievements and milestones, empathising with them when events have taken a turn for the worse, holding the authorities to account and helping get justice for victims of crimes. Where else would you turn to find out the former leader of West Sussex County Council had been deselected by the Conservative association for the forthcoming county elections? Who else would she trust with putting her views across to the residents of the city where she serves as a councillor? Our respected journalists. That’s who.”
Chichester Observer reporter Joe Stack said: “As journalists, we relish the privilege of being able to tell your stories every day. Living among the communities we serve gives us a special insight into the issues our readers care about and we work tirelessly to champion people and important causes as well as challenging the main issues facing us and hold those in power to account.”
Jennifer Logan, senior reporter for the Mid Sussex Times and Sussex Express, said: “Journalism could not be more important right now. Throughout the pandemic we have informed our communities and shared some of the amazing stories there have been, such as people going to heroic efforts to help others. We have built long-established relationships with our readers who put their trust in us. I feel proud every day doing the job I do and giving people a voice for the things that matter to them. In the Mid Sussex Times, we have recently helped launch a new mental health initiative in the district, which could not be more vital right now. Receiving kind messages of thanks and seeing the group share our articles on social media demonstrates how much they appreciate the work we do.”
Nicola Caines, Deputy Editor for the Chichester Observer series, said: “Trust is such a crucial word, something we all hope to feel in many aspects of our lives. When it comes to local newspapers, especially ours, you, our readers, can rest assured that we work tirelessly to ensure the content we provide you with can be trusted.
“I love being a local journalist, helping our communities to be heard and giving them a platform on which to highlight their plights. We often join forces with our readers and make it clear when we share their feelings over things that impact our communities, like the temporary cycle lanes, gritting cuts and the loss of the Spirit FM brand. We also love highlighting good news and we love to champion our communities. We always urge people to support our towns and cities, the businesses, the arts and the charities. We are part of that community, too, and would be so grateful if you could also support us in what we do.”
Editor and Editorial Director Gary Shipton said: “Our journalism meets some of the highest standards in the world. We are independently regulated, legally accountable, and our journalists are trained to national standards through the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
“But against the unregulated tech giants like Facebook and Google, financing our content has never been more challenging so we do look to everyone who values what we do to buy a newspaper every week.”