As someone that works in the media, I’ve been struck more immediately than most ‘fresh off the boat’ Brits by the strength of local press over here [in Australia] as is.
I read the Manly Daily every week now that I live in Sydney but haven’t read my local papers back home for at least a decade.
The problem for local British press is a lack of ad revenues. This is a problem shared by the Australian local press thanks to our digital overlords Facebook and Google, but in the UK it’s compounded by the overall dominance of the BBC.
Just last year the BBC announced it was planning a local press charity foundation to undo some of the damage. However, I fear it’s too little too late.
Why? There’s an element of local press reporting that’s muscle memory for starters. Understanding the implications of paragraph b subsection c of the local planning laws, as well as being able to piece together the vast array of colourful personalities that often make up a local council isn’t something anyone can pick up overnight.
More than that, the appetite for local press has dwindled too. A whole generation of Brits have grown up with very little connection to their local area, instead fed news by far more commercial entities, or a Westminster-centric BBC.
But it’s also too little too late in far more nefarious ways, the extent of which we will never really be able to understand. For example, following the Grenfell Tower fire – the beginning of the cladding issue which claimed 72 lives – the press was alive with pundits claiming that this could have been prevented by stronger local press.
And that’s entirely correct – especially given the local Grenfell residents association had long been making noise about power surges in the building, unchecked fire equipment, and congestion in the hallways – but with no local media outlet to hear them, it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Even now, 2.5 years later, little has been done to rectify this dearth of local reporting.
This is why the closure of the AAP yesterday fills me with dread. The organisation plays a huge role in court and parliamentary reporting, something that local papers often don’t have the resources to cover. And it’s even more concerning at a time when Australia is on the frontline of battling the reality of climate change, something that’s hitting more rural areas especially hard.
My hope would be that Australia galvanizes to shore up the future of the media platforms that care for its people (spoiler alert, that’s not Facebook or Google), especially as impact investment is on the rise. Surely as we look to clean up the flow of capital in our economy and ensure positive impact there’s a place for these bastions of local democracy.
Ultimately, the harsh reality is that when nobody is there reporting objectively on what local councils are doing, democracy starts to slide, and the results can be life threatening.