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Don't tar all newspapers with the same brush, celebrate quality

30 March 2017

Gill Oliver

I keep hearing and reading scathing descriptions about how terrible regional and local newspapers have become.

It's a sad truth that many UK local titles have been axed or reduced to a shell of their former selves and that is a tragedy and a scandal.

But as we mark Local News Matters week, please don't tar all regional and local newspapers with the same brush.

Daily regional The Oxford Mail (which, as business and property reporter, I am extremely proud to be part of) is one of very few still reporting pages and pages of original news every single day.

That is entirely thanks to its hard-working and award-winning team of professionally trained reporters, newsdesk editors, photographers and sports and features teams who cover Oxfordshire's health, education, crime, political, eco and business scene.

It comes from hours and hours spent at county, town and parish council meetings, often late into the evenings, diligent and accurate coverage of magistrates and crown courts, rapid response to breaking news (including live blogs needing skill, speed and accuracy), press conferences, health committees, digging through company accounts and reports and even more hours and hours spent on the phone and in person building local contacts with and talking to people living and working in our patch.

No one could argue the Oxford Mail’s parent company, Newsquest (and its parent Gannett) are anything other than geared towards profit and shareholders. Newsquest’s cynical actions around the UK, in terms of redundancies, cutbacks and most recently with the closure of the Newport subbing hub, are nothing short of despicable.

You are right, you critics out there, the regional and local newspaper industry in the UK is bleeding to death, slowly and painfully.

And yes, we in Oxford are suffering too – understaffed, under-resourced and with reporters not able to get out as much as any of us would like, so too much contact is now via phone and email.

But you are hugely mistaken if you think the Oxford Mail no longer breaks powerful and original local stories which really matter. Here are just a tiny fraction of some recent stories, which speak realms about why blanket and scathing attacks are unfair and inaccurate. 

Many Oxford Mail reporters are praised for attaining high marks in NCTJ exams, nominated for Regional Press Awards and go on to high-flying national journalism jobs, thanks to first-class training and skills learned at the Oxford Mail.

I’ve worked in many newsrooms during my 20-odd year journalism career and I can tell you standards here are exacting and my colleagues are faster, more accurate and better qualified than anywhere I’ve ever worked before.

The paper is hampered by being owned by an unscrupulous corporate –I desperately wish all regional newspaper-owning corporates would sell their newspapers to the community, or other less shareholder-driven owners.

But although we are struggling with a lack of resources, there is not a single journalist or editor on the Oxford Mail & Oxford Times team who doesn't give 100 per cent towards challenging power and uncovering things some would rather stayed uncovered.

But what is also important, actually, more important, is that we don't just try our hardest, we actually do uncover those stories that matter every day of every week.

I don't know how much longer it will be possible for Oxford Mail reporters and editors to carry on breaking exclusives and covering our patch as thoroughly and professionally as we do now but whatever the future holds, anyone who thinks we aren’t doing it now, simply doesn’t know what they are talking about.

So, don't do us the injustice of dismissing all our hard work and hard-won original stories.

We may be down but we are most certainly not out.

This comment piece is entirely the personal views of the author and not that of the Oxford Mail, The Oxford Times, or any other journalists there, nor of Newsquest or Gannett.

Gill Oliver is a freelance journalist and member of the NUJ Oxford branch.

Find out more about the NUJ's local news matters campaign.

Tags: , oxford branch, oxford mail, oxford times, newsquest, gannett, local news, local news matters, local news matters week, local newspapers