Harrington: Insert clickbait headline here…

Can we live off 'what Amanda Holden is wearing to work' posts alone?

Monday, 28th March


Dame Judi Dench catches up on all the news

HAPPY birthday to the team on the other side of the newsroom: today (Friday) marks the 40th anniversary of the very first edition of the Camden New Journal.

Without it, there wouldn’t be the mighty Westminster Extra, which began life as a four-page pullout in the CNJ. Too popular to stay like that, the paper eventually branched out to be its own entity.

If only the local newspaper terrain was not so punishing, I know colleagues would love to expand the Westminster version to match the size and weight of the Camden original.

Still, you don’t have to go too far from wherever you are reading this today to find an area with no local paper at all.

Titles have closed while others limp on, very much a shadow of their former selves.

Some have been replaced by web-only operations.

Indeed, some, including the three big conglomerates in charge of nearly all of the UK’s local titles, have decided that in some places they can operate websites rather than shoulder the costs of print and distribution.

Often, these sites are filled with low-hanging fruit: quick returns on police press releases, always with a parade of mugshots for us to stare at the baddies.

There is also the staple diet of product recalls from supermarkets, taste tests (what is the best Victoria sponge out there? – you’ll never guess which one came out on top) and reheated history pieces dressed up as new knowledge.

Then you will find Google search bar favourites: Which channel is Spurs versus Leicester City on? What time does Strictly start tonight?

And don’t forget the detailed describing of celebrity Instagram posts.

This easy-to-spread cocktail, designed to get you to click once they have been fed into your neighbourhood Facebook groups, is slowly replacing the investigations and story-chasing which requires time but, critically, keeps publicly funded institutions on their toes.

In some companies, reporters now have stratospheric web targets; a metric surely guiding each day at work.

Why go for the important public interest story when you can score big with a traffic update? You don’t have to be snobbish about what does and doesn’t constitute news to realise this is a problem.

There is a Don’t Look Up quality to the trend; we can all talk about what could happen in a landscape without a challenging media and missing that layer of independent checks and scrutiny.

And we can already see the warning signs of the upcoming burnout in the way that news is collated and presented.

It always seemed a long way off, a future dystopia. It is actually happening now.

Maybe the government has clocked that we cannot live alone on soccer transfer updates and debates on what Amanda Holden is wearing to work today, and a new parliamentary inquiry into the future of local news has been ordered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Committee chair Julian Knight MP said: “It is clear that the market for local news journalism has shifted considerably over the past two decades.

“The need to know what is going on in your area is as great as it ever has been, arguably greater, but there is a very real challenge in how to deliver that.

“How can we maintain and protect the type of journalism that reports what your council is doing, coverage that is essential to local democracy?”

We will follow what the MPs do with this work and submit our own evidence.

Understanding the importance of local news is a good first step.

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