Declining local paper sales are a danger to democracy

Action needs to be taken to prevent a crisis for local democracy as a result of the dramatic decline in local press readership, a Leicester academic told BBC listeners this week.

Tor Clark, Associate Professor in Journalism and BA Journalism course leader at the University of Leicester, said a new Government report published this week noted how the decline in readership of regional newspapers may be linked to declining turnout in local elections, with serious implications for local people’s participation in local democracy.

Speaking to Jimmy Carpenter’s Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Leicester on Thursday 8 October Tor, who has researched this area for the last 15 years and previously worked as a regional newspaper editor, called for people who cared about the provision of quality trusted local information to raise the plight of regional newspapers and lobby for solutions.

The Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned the report, by Plum Consulting, which warned the decline of the local press reduced scrutiny of democratic functions and was unlikely to improve without intervention.

Tor said: “Local journalism is the vital source of local information for local people – or put more simply, how can people know how to vote in council elections to decide how their communities are run if they can’t find out what’s going on locally?

“Local journalism is part of the glue which binds local communities together and helps give them their identities, but the provision of trusted local information is under threat as never before.

“Of course people still read local news online, but news provided via social media raises issues of trust and accuracy and people who read local news on the websites of professional news organisation don’t pay for it, which creates a funding problem for the provision of local journalism.

“The rise of free online content and the departure of the advertising revenue which used to fund professional journalism has created a crisis for local communities – and this crisis is not being taken seriously.

“But positive ideas do exist and whilst this report is a welcome shedding of light on this issue, it should also be a call to action to start exploring long-term solutions.”

Tor will be writing about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK regional press in his latest book, provisionally titled Populism and the Media, co-edited with Raymond Snoddy, Richard Tait, John Mair and Neil Fowler, and due to be published by Abramis in March.

It is a follow-up to Brexit, Boris and the Media, edited by the same team.