News

World without local press would be “utterly terrifying”, says editor

Posted on: October 16, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The world without local press to hold those in power to account would be “utterly terrifying”, a regional editor has said today.

Editor of the Basingstoke Gazette, Katie French, told the World Without News panel that having a local paper in a community or a town acts as a huge deterrent to ensure authorities are held accountable.

The comments followed the publication of industry marketing body Newsworks’ in-depth report into the UK news landscape, released in partnership with the Society of Editors and News Media Association.

Two thirds of people appreciate and value journalism more since the global coronavirus pandemic began and 70% agree that a world without journalism would harm democracy, the report’s headline findings showed.

French told the panel, “During times of crisis or uncertainty people turn towards brands they can trust […] We saw a massive shift of people really appreciating original, trusted sources of news.”

“We’ve had lots of people coming to us with various different rumours and we’ve been able to alleviate their anxieties,” French added as local papers felt the drive towards fact-checked news.

An extra 2.2 million people consumed local news during the pandemic in July compared to January, according to Comscore.

Considering what the world would look like without news, French said, “I guess in two words it would be utterly terrifying. A world without local press would be really scary because just the act of having a local paper in a community or a town really acts as a huge deterrent to make sure that authorities and those in power are held to account.”

The panel also heard from Demi Abiola, UK Publishing Director for PHD; Rebecca Myers, Reporter & Feature Writer for The Sunday Times; Denise Turner, Insight Director for Newsworks; and was chaired by Michaela Jefferson, News Editor for Mediatel.

Explaining the study – which included face-to-face interviews with participants – Newsworks’ Denise Turner said findings showed that “quality is in the eye of the beholder” of news, and quality journalism should not just be seen as “serious news” – but news which empowers readers to hold opinions on any topic.

The findings were based on studies by Newsworks which sought to saturate non-news readers with news and deprive regular news readers of their news content, including the case study of a Sun reader who was deprived of news for a week.

Turner told the panel the participant confessed that despite following the football scores without sight of a newspaper, “I couldn’t venture an opinion because I couldn’t feel I had that in-depth analysis that allowed me to have a debate with my friends.”

Panellist Rebecca Myers, who is also a sports reporter, added that without sports journalism the world would see a ‘lot more doping’, explaining that sports journalism holds power to account in the same way that journalism holds any power to account.

She said, “You’ve got huge sums of money now across the world in sports, particularly football, and a massive potential for corruption, so it’s really important to use journalism to hold sports to account and make sure that everything is fair and above board”.

Panellist Demi Abiola concluded the debate by adding that recent support for journalism by public figures is crucial for supporting democracy.

“What’s been really encouraging… In the last couple of months, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has talked about how newspapers are the fourth emergency service… and the Queen supporting Journalism Matters,” Abiola said.

In a foreword to the World Without News report, published today, the SoE’s executive director Ian Murray said:

“The results, laid out here, give a lie to those who would constantly attack the mainstream media – be they politicians, influencers, celebrities, those with power and authority – as vessels of misinformation and so-called fake news.

“The public it appears thinks otherwise.

“It was always understood that the public supported a free press and recognised the need for the mainstream media that is able to provide well researched, balanced, correctly edited news content. The proof of this has been provided by the numbers of people who have turned to trusted journalism for news and information during this pandemic.”

Further highlights and insights from the research showed:

  • 70% agree you can trust newspapers to be on top of all the news stories at the time
  • 82% agree that newspapers bring you a variety of news, even stories you hadn’t previously heard of 
  • 83% agree that newspapers cover all aspects of the news, not just one particular type of news 
  • 80% agree newspapers are great at laying out everything to help you make sense of a story, issue or event.

Download the report in full here.