Community newspapers are in the news again in Edinburgh. A debate has broken out over whether the council is best placed to deliver local information or whether local communities should be given the chance to report on news and issues affecting them. Last week the Evening News highlighted the potential of community run publications being given financial support if the current council newspaper Outlook was axed. It was suggested that the money saved could be distributed amongst existing and former community newspapers.
The Sentinel was an independent community voice, keeping people informed, campaigning on issues and promoting a positive image of Wester Hailes. It reported news but it also scrutinised and questioned. These independent voices have been reducing in recent years across Edinburgh. Last year we looked at the sad demise of the Craigmillar Chronicle and the Speaker in Restalrig, with the North Edinburgh News looking as though it was also facing closure. These followed the closures of the South Edinburgh Echo, the Gorgie Dalry Gazette and of course the Sentinel’s successor the West Edinburgh Times in 2008.
We also highlighted a report by the Media Trust which clearly showed that people want local news and that most people would like more local news rather than less. But how local news is defined is a crucial matter. The Media Trust’s research demonstrated that people differentiated between information services and truly local independent investigative journalism. Those surveyed did not regard the free publications they received from their local council or other public bodies as news. The report emphasises that the importance of this independence cannot be overstated, arguing that local news should be in the hand of local people.
“A good local news service in this sense is one that gives a voice to the voiceless; that is prepared to listen to and represent the concerns of ordinary local people; and is willing to act as a fourth estate, holding power to account.”
(Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities)
The report also showed that in areas where there was a strong community newspaper, local democracy was more active, with local residents feeling listened to and able to speak out about matters affecting them. An independent community newspaper is able to draw the community together. Throughout its history, the Sentinel articulated the concerns and aspirations of people living in Wester Hailes, providing information but also a unified voice. From the beginning it was run by a local committee with the principle that the paper should reflect the interests of those living in the area rather than a single person or an external organisation. You can read the article about the Media Trust report in full here.
So it is very encouraging to see interest in community newspapers back on the political agenda in Edinburgh. The ongoing problem of decreasing interest in local democracy has generated much debate and effort as politicians seek solutions. It is therefore surely timely to consider an investment in the community newspaper sector as a way of raising levels of interest and participation in democratic structures. As the Sentinel showed, community newspapers are an effective way of achieving this and they never needed a glossy cover to get people involved! You can read the Evening News article in full here.