As I See It

Local news playing catch up in the digital world

I read with interest, an article in yesterday’s issue of The Times on the BBC’s Director of News bemoaning social media’s impact on local news (“BBC lays blame for demise of local press on Google”).

The argument made by James Harding goes that local presses can’t compete with the speed of news and low cost of advertising offered online, via sites such as Facebook and Gumtree. Which is quite right, and in one case there is an easy resolution (news), while in the other there should simply be acceptance of change (advertising).

Over 34 million Brits now use Facebook. Naturally, news will travel fast. Local journalists, or their newspaper; if smart, can use this to their advantage. Facebook, Twitter, Google et al., are social media, and therefore news must become social. The Guardian has piloted this with their ‘Witness’ and ‘Comment is Free’ initiatives. Closer to home, the East Kilbride News is using Facebook to highlight key issues in the town, inviting followers to share their views and of course, link back to the paper’s website.

Social sites offer means to reach bigger audiences (perhaps) than sat in a newsagents beneath the wider read national dailies. Each site offers a different benefit. Sharing news and interacting with fans is essential on Facebook, while Twitter offers a live news feed. Sure, nothing will travel faster among friends, colleagues, even whole towns than a juicy rumour. At the end of the day however, most people will always trust their local “paper” first.

Maybe, Mr. Harding is quick to divert the issue from the Beeb’s own failings towards local media. The BBC’s online news offering is vast, yet it is accused of pilfering stories and leads from under the nose of local journalists. Unlike rival STV, the BBC is yet to open itself to user generated digital content, hyper local updates or crediting collaboration. In fairness to the corporation, Mr. Harding does outline news licensing opportunities around the Commonwealth Games, which may be one area of fostering closer ties with local media.

I hope this approach is lasting and one of a positive working relationship rather than further empire building and finger pointing.

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