Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Let's hope the Ilford Recorder's move to Barking does not signal the path to more desk bound journalism and fewer journalists

The east London based Ilford Recorder is moving its offices out of the borough of Redbridge to Barking.
Editor Chris Carter assured readers that the move would not mean the Recorder “will not have a presence in Redbridge far from it.”
He added: “The march of technology means reporters can work remotely from almost anywhere, so, besides having a presence in Ilford, we are actively exploring hot desking sites in other areas of the borough.”
The Recorder does a decent job of reporting what goes on in Redbridge – it has kept up its compliment of reporters, unlike many local newspapers.
The nature of news coverage though is changing. The story of a veteran reporter comes to mind, when on retirement he recalled how 25 years ago the news editor would come into the newsroom at lunch time and if there was anyone there would ask why? The implication being they should be out chasing down stories and making contacts.
More recently in the digital age, the news editor would come into the newsroom, if someone was missing they’d want to know where they were. The era of internet journalism coupled with bean counter dominance over editorial has changed the culture to one of being chained to the desk, surveying the internet, rather than getting out to meet people and make contacts.
Another effect of technological change has been a reduction in staff. Reporters are pushed to do more for less. Few stay on local papers very long, as pay is poor and career prospects not much better.
The days of a journalist staying on a local paper for many years, building a historic knowledge of the area, have long since passed. Some would-be journalists start their careers on local papers before moving off to better remunerated and more secure jobs on the other side of the fence, working in PR, often for local authority press offices. A lucky few may graduate onto national papers but this route is far less well travelled than in the past.
Despite the arrival of online journalism, local papers have spread themselves ever thinner when it comes to personnel. Yet, arguably there is more to do, with a daily new service to be provided online as well as the hard print version of the paper. All this is being done with fewer journalists than previously. Technology has ofcourse made a difference but the product has in some ways also been devalued.
Take the Redbridge area, the Ilford Recorder’s main rival in the area are the Newsquest run Guardian newspapers. Newsquest are a big group of papers spreading across the area but sometimes maybe the resources are spread too thin.
The weekly paper, the Wanstead & Woodford Guardian covers the major stories but progress in only a few pages and the paper starts to pull in material from other areas. Stories from other papers in the group, serving adjoining areas like Epping, Chingford and Enfield make an appearance.
The person living in the Wanstead and Woodford area is left wondering why am I reading these stories, is there so little happening here?
Who knows, is it lack of resources, lack of journalists or is Wanstead and Woodford simply a news light area? Or are the owners of some newspapers, guided by accountants, simply spreading the resources too thinly. 
In defence, no doubt there would be the argument that the papers are in transition with the emphasis moving increasingly from print to online but this only carries a certain amount of weight.
The tendency identified in east London is by no means unique – titles across the country operate in similar fashion.It is a real race to the bottom culture that is bad for journalism and local communities seeking to know what is going on in their areas.
So good luck to the Ilford Recorder with its move but don’t cut the journalistic team that reports the news from the Redbridge.. oh and let them out at lunchtime.

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