Thursday, 21 April 2011
The Barnet Press: why we must support their strike
In this borough, we have three local papers. One of them, the Ham & High, is more focused on the Camden borders but is a good read, literate, culturally savvy, and brave: not afraid to tackle the MetPro scandal, as we saw.
Of the two other local publications, the Times Group is perhaps the most widely distributed through the borough, and is a mainstay of local reporting. Recently it has become more challenging of the antics of our local authority, and is all the better for it, doing what a local paper should do.
Last, but not least, is the Barnet Press, concentrating on the northern sector of the borough, and unusual in being a privately owned, independent paper. Mrs Angry used to save the Barnet Press specifically for firelighting, in the bad old days, when Brian Coleman used to have a regular column in it, enlightening the grateful readership with his wisdom and benevolent views, and descriptions of his Pooterish attempts to network with the er, what is the phrase he loves - the 'great and the good'. Happily, those days are safely in the past, and the Press is now magnificently scathing in its denouncement of not only Mr Toad himself, but more importantly the generally outrageous behaviour of our current Tory council, notably with stories such as Allowancegate and the MetPro scandal.
Which is how a local paper should be - independent, challenging, campaigning, investigative. God knows this is what we need in Barnet - with a lunatic Tory council like ours, which tries to control all dissent and all criticism, even within its own party, the range and vigour of the local press is an essential safeguard of democracy, isn't it?
You might be wondering why a blogger would worry about the future of traditional reporting in an era of social media, citizen journalism, the netroots movement and all that stuff. But I do worry, and I do care very much, because I don't see any conflict between the two different approaches. Journalism is evolving, as everything does, but it isn't extinct: the need to report news professionally will always exist, in whatever format, whether globally, nationally, or locally.
On a local basis, the relationship between bloggers and the local press should be symbiotic, mutually beneficial - or in other words, as happpens in Barnet - they nick our stories and we nick theirs. The local press has its ways, and we have ours, but they are not in competition and in fact the different approaches complement each other. As a result, the hapless residents of Barnet are better informed about their the political life of their borough than any other borough in London, and perhaps the country as a whole.
The Tories who run this council would love it if the Barnet Press faded away, I am sure: its main distribution points coincide with the area in the borough where some of the most awful of our many awful councillors reside and have their wards: all the more reason to maintain a healthy, combative local paper in those parts, therefore.
At the moment, NUJ members working on the Barnet Press are engaged in a two week strike. This is not over paylevels, but on a point of principle, and that principle is the future of local journalism. The owners of their papers have reduced the staffing to the point where only three reporters must produce a total of nine publications. This enormous workload means that many issues and stories that should be covered are going unreported, and there is a struggle to maintain a proper standard of professional coverage. This represents the slow death of a local newpaper, and that is something we should all be very concerned about.
Do you want your local newspaper to be reduced to a couple of stories about bring and buy sales in the church hall, wrapped round a weighty advertising supplement, or do you want a challenging, lively, opinionated paper which reports on matters of public interest to your local community? Time then, to show your support for the freedom of the press, and the future of local journalism: visit their website and read how: