Local journalists are the eyes & ears of the public in Liverpool
29 March 2017
In an age of fake news, sliding newspaper sales, a digital takeover of news publishing, and when an opportunist non-journalist blags his way through life to become a major evening regional newspaper editor as redundancies of experienced journalists continues unabated it is important to remember that local news really does matter.
If local news was to disappear for good then we would all be in a darker place.
Local journalists are in many ways the eyes and ears of the public, helping to show that the legal process is in good working order through their court reporting. I think of my own early career and the court stories that would never have been reported on if I had not been in court: the swindler who cheated charities out of thousands of pounds so he could buy better music equipment for his group; or the prolific teenage house burglar and car thief who during one night raided numerous homes and raced around leafy suburbia in a nicked Jeep. Sadly, bread and butter court stories like the two examples described here are not being reported on in the volume as they once were as reporters become fewer in number and the ones that are left are so stretched that they are not able to get to the courts to cover routine cases and sentences.
Council meetings are just as important to cover, but again with fewer journalists in our town halls many potential political stories are left uncovered as there are not as many journalists around to get under the skin of the local authority. In fact, I have seen council press releases printed unamended in the media, such is the lack of scrutiny. Many politicians and other authorities are not being held to account and the public are consequently being left in the wilderness as to what is going on.
And then there is the knock-on effect of fewer reporters covering local patches to dig out the stories that are important to their community. It is true that social media can help journalists find morsels of information that allow them to create stories - I have done that myself - but a lot of face-to-face contact with the public is lost in journalism today.
I am currently a sub-editor and am mainly office based, but I know it is worthwhile keeping in touch with contacts because I know that they are fighting for their communities that I am also a part of and live in.
Fans Supporting Foodbanks is a case in point. It is sad that we live in a country where there is a need for foodbanks, but we are where we are and without them people go hungry. A joint initiative between Everton and Liverpool fans means that matchgoers can drop off any surplus food that they have in their kitchens at the foodbank van at Anfield and Goodison Park stadiums on matchdays. If the fan groups had not contacted me to ask to see if I would cover their great idea then their great work would never have been covered to the extent that it has been in the local media. And that would have been a shame because it would have meant that some of society's poorest people, who reside in some of the country's poorest council wards, would have gone hungry.
The fans' work has since gone from strength to strength with churches, mosques, schools, the city council and Merseyside's Premier League football clubs joining the fans' fight to combat hunger. And I am proud to say that I have covered that part of the fan groups journey, too.
Local news really does matter because without it a light is not being shone on what is happening in our local communities.
Mark Johnson works for the Liverpool Echo
Find out more about the NUJ's local news matters campaign.