Why PeterboroughMatters matters: What to expect from Archant’s local news experiment
Matt Kelly on how PeterboroughMatters.co.uk — the new community website collaboration between Archant and the Google Local News Experiment — will attempt to create a new model for local news
Local news is in trouble. Twenty years since the advent of the internet, there has been a profound and irreversible shift in how people consume news, and our industry faces an existential crisis. As an Ernest Hemingway character said of bankruptcy, it happened gradually, then suddenly.
If, as recently as three years ago, we thought we had the luxury of time to create a sustainable model in a world beyond print, we were fooling ourselves. That viable model for quality digital local journalism remains elusive. None of the UK’s traditional media companies have cracked it yet — Archant included. But crack it we must, or the consequences for communities throughout the country will be real and damaging.
This is why Archant is delighted to have partnered with Google’s Local News Experiment project to see if, over the next three years, we can innovate our way towards giving local journalism a new lease of life. Our first of three new community website launches will go live in Peterborough in the spring of next year.
Peterborough is one of the UK’s fastest-expanding cities, today with a population of around 200,000. Peterborough has a vibrant city centre, with many independent businesses thriving, and a real sense of community.
It’s that sense of community we want to reflect in PeterboroughMatters.co.uk. A site that takes its lead from the people of Peterborough, helps bind them together in the things they care about, and provides them with every last scrap of information they could possibly need to get the most out of life in their great city.
If that mission sounds familiar then perhaps you are — like me — old enough to recall the days when the local paper was more than just a stream of news, it was the fabric of the community.
I began my career as a cub reporter on a local paper, age 17. I know first-hand the value strong local journalism can bring, and I know how easily it can slip away. The Formby Times was a great local newspaper. Note the use of the past tense. It doesn’t exist any longer.
Nothing in Formby moved without the knowledge of The Formby Times. Every darts team, snooker team, bowls team. Every Formby FC match, home and away. Every shop or cafe opening. Every nativity play and am-dram production. Every campaign against a supermarket opening or for a new see-saw in the kids’ playpark. Every birth. Every death. Every wedding. Every pothole. Every lost dog. Everything.
We thought it would be everlasting. And as special as it seems looking back today, The Formby Times was ordinary. Not one large village or small town in the country didn’t have its weekly equivalent. Not a city worth its salt was without a daily newspaper or two.
Anyone involved in managing regional newspapers will be very familiar with the accusation that their decline is all our fault; that life was squeezed out of local by a cynical strategy of cutting costs to retain profit levels, regardless of the consequences to quality journalism.
Well, yes and no. It’s true that had local media companies had a crystal ball back in the late 1990s, they would almost certainly have taken the internet a more seriously and invested more. But in recent years our efforts to become again as relevant and essential to the community as we once were, have been increasingly determined.
In one way we have succeeded. On the internet, our journalism today reaches a wider audience than at any time in our history. Yet despite this, a sustainable, profitable model for digital local journalism is yet to emerge. Archant’s partnership with Google will attempt to fix that.
Together, we have the skills; editorial know-how, technological expertise and a deep understanding — through the most advanced analytics available — into creating a platform the community will consider an essential part of Peterborough life.
We all depend on local journalism, even if we don’t realise quite how much until it’s gone. Holding power to account, making justice seen to be done, bringing citizens together, publicising the best of community life, bringing positive change to the worst of it.
Local journalism matters. PeterboroughMatters matters.