Reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel, the Rep Council commented in an article for the special anniversary edition that
“Every community needs to know where it has come from to know where it is going: every community needs its own Sentinel.”
The article Fighting For Justice recalled the high level of community activity that accompanied the history of Wester Hailes, giving a whistle-stop tour of the past successes that had emerged from campaigns, lobbying and protest. The Sentinel was recognised both as an early achievement and a main ingredient in this success story.
Last week we looked at the debate that has arisen in Edinburgh over the
potential of community run newspapers being given financial support if the current council newspaper Outlook is axed. There is concern at a national level over the future of local independent newspapers in the light of the Johnston Press moving many long established daily local newspapers to weekly editions and with papers being increasingly amalgamated to cover larger areas. An early day motion has been tabled by Linda Riordan, MP for Halifax, praising the role that local newspapers play in local democracy and stating a hope that these newspapers will continue to play an important role in the life of their communities for many years to come. Louise Mensch MP has called for subsidies and tax advantages for community newspapers as a means of preserving the UK’s “most popular print media”
It is estimated that over half of the UK’s local newspapers could close by 2014. Some of these have a considerable circulation and resources behind them. Yet they remain vulnerable in a world where there is a steady loss of advertising and rising print costs. It is no wonder that so many smaller community newspapers have had to close their doors in such conditions. These developments have generated discussion in the national press. Whilst there is much concern about what will happen if there is no local voice to hold authority to account, there are also good news stories showing that independent community news reporting is still finding ways to be heard.
More and more, news is shifting to online formats. Up to the minute, flexible and crucially cheaper, it seems the ideal medium for accessing information. After all “Google” is now a verb and how we access information has changed as ease of using the internet has grown: our first inclination now when searching for facts, reviews, directions etc is to look online. Newspapers now upload much of their content into online sites. In years to come, this may well be the main way news is distributed. But at present there is still a digital divide and a mix of formats needs to be maintained in the short term to ensure everyone is included.
Can online formats have a campaigning role? Social media such as Twitter has shown both in this country and internationally that it can bring people together for protest, keep them informed and direct lobbying over issues. When the Sentinel was first established, there was no idea that information could be shared via an online format with the internet itself as we know it a couple of decades away, let alone use of mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook etc as news formats. If the Sentinel was being set up from scratch today, an online presence would be the norm.
It could be argued that the format is not really the issue, more that the journalism needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable. In its 20 year anniversary issue, the Sentinel printed 20 things you didn’t know about your local newspaper, showing its loyalty to its community, its reach and its influence. It is these qualities that gave it longevity and set a standard for any successors whatever their format.