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Editors: Local papers continue to cover courts and councils

LOCAL papers continue to cover the courts and councils in depth because their readers are intensely interested in knowing what’s going on in their community, senior local press journalists have said. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM, which is running a series of slots on local newspapers this week, editors across the UK have highlighted the continued importance of local newspapers and their coverage of councils and courts as well as the high demand from readers and advertisers for a printed local newspaper and the digital version. 

The News Media Association (NMA) reports that Worcester News, deputy editor John Wilson (pictured) told the BBC that local newspapers coverage of councils and courts was as strong as it ever had been. 

He said: “There’s been concern about local press retreating from some of these jobs but in my experience that’s just not the case.  We have a reporter now at the Crown Court, we cover the councils, we cover the inquests, we do all the traditional reporting that we once did plus more.” 

The series on PM - in which BBC journalists visit local newspapers across the UK and follow the process of local news production, shadowing reporters as they go out on stories, and sitting in on news conferences - kicked off last week with a visit to the Impartial Reporter. 

Editor Sarah Saunderson spoke of the intense interest of readers in the paper’s coverage of the courts and councils.  She said: “People know each other here, we recognise each other going up the street, people know each other’s families, and with that tight type of community people are interested in what’s going on around them.

They’re interested in the issues, they’re interested in what’s happening in the local council, in the courts, and we provide that kind of news so, certainly yes, there is still very much an appetite for that because we are such a strong community.” 

Earlier this week, the programme visited the newsroom at The Herald in Plymouth, which is read by 150,000 people every day in print and online. 

Presenting the slot, BBC journalist in the South West Sarah Ransome said: “This is a newspaper with a proud print product and a digital footprint that’s on the rise. It’s not hard to see where the readership is but as editor Paul Burton tries to steer a course to plot the paper’s future he’s clear that he won’t forget his loyal newspaper buyers along the way.”

Responding to the suggestion that the print edition of the paper - which was first published in 1895 - might cease in favour of online only, editor Paul Burton told the programme that “an awful lot” of advertisers still wanted to advertise in print. 

He said: “It makes no commercial sense for us, it’s still widely circulated, it’s still bought by a lot of people and we still have an awful lot of advertisers that want to advertise in print. But we’re also aware that I can’t ignore the decline of print, we have to be brave and start building a model that’s going to sustain The Herald in the future.”  

Paul described how the team uses digital analytics data to inform priorities for news coverage and shape the paper’s agenda. 

He said: “Effectively what we’re doing is letting our readers decide what our lead story should be so we use our analytics to tell us what people are interested in the most and concentrate on those stories. There’s no point in me allowing a reporter to spend an entire day working on something that I know people simply won’t be interested in.”

Edd Moore, The Herald head of content, added: “The very DNA of what we do really is to tell the stories of the people in our city, the city we all live in and work in and love to bits as well.

So for example we’re going out today to do a story on a forgotten corner of a housing estate where there are multimillion pound plans to demolish probably 75 per cent of it. We think it’s important to the talk to the 25 per cent of people who say they are being left behind – this is their story, it’s not the story of the developer.”

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