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In an era of fake news & click bait - local news matters more than ever

25 March 2017

Cath Saunt

I live and work in Norwich. Yes, yes - I know. Alan Partridge. But did you know it was home to England’s first provincial newspaper?

The Norwich Post was established in 1701. Its success was short-lived. The weekly paper only lasted ten or so years - a victim to competition. By 1706 Norwich had more newspapers than any other provincial English city.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the local newspaper group, Archant is running a TV station. There’s BBC and independent local radio and a host of websites offering information to the people of Norfolk. There’s also a well-respected newspaper, the Lynn News, which covers the west of the county.

Over the past 30 years, BBC Radio Norfolk’s become a well-loved and trusted part of the community offering itself as the ears and eyes of the county.

It’s always been one of the most listened to radio stations in England, relied on for the latest weather, travel and news. Many well known journalists have started their working lives at radio stations like BBC Radio Norfolk. The Breakfast and Drive shows are there to hold to account politicians and those in charge. And presenters like Stephen Bumfrey, Chrissie Jackson and Wally Webb add a bit of sparkle to the mix. Wally - widely acknowledged to be the "real" Alan Partridge - is still here after more than 35 years. His inimitable early show is cult listening.

In a crisis who do you turn to? During the storm surges that hit the East Coast in 2013 and earlier this year our listeners tuned in, not just to hear the news, but vital information about where they lived. Our schedule went out of the window and we broadcast uninterrupted until the danger had passed and the waters had receded.

BBC Radio Norfolk’s also a vital lifeline for the lonely and isolated - its presenters are viewed as well-loved friends. Our airwaves are a conduit for the voices of people who otherwise would go unheard; those on low incomes and elderly, disabled and disadvantaged people. Since 2008 they have borne the brunt of government austerity. They’ve seen vital services pared back or disappear. At the same time their various means of redress, advice and legal representation have withered - funding’s been withdrawn from services like Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and legal aid.

Now, along with provincial newspapers - such a vital part of our democracy and free speech for more than three hundred years - local radio is facing another round of cuts. The number of journalists is being whittled away. BBC Radio and TV across the English regions is facing cuts of £15 million pounds. There are many who fear its complete demise in the not too distant future.

Now digital is king and news is becoming more and more remote, faceless and centralised. Local radio district offices like Great Yarmouth are being cut; bitter experience has shown that once the office goes, the district reporter is often not far behind. Managers say we can cover places like Great Yarmouth, Bury St Edmunds and Colchester from the bigger hubs of Norwich and Chelmsford. However, our reps tell us that once "out of sight, out of mind", coverage of these important towns falls noticeably.

Consumers of news are becoming more and more removed from the source of their information and vice versa. We must hang on to our district reporters and their offices, to our radio stations, to the people we trust to report the news accurately and fairly.

Local news DOES matter - in an era of fake news and click bait - it matters more than ever before.

Cath Saunt is an NUJ BBC rep and member of the NUJ Norfolk branch. The branch will be leafleting members of the public today as part of local news matters week of action. Meet at 12.30 outside the Guildhall in Norwich.

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

Tags: , norwich, norfolk, norfolk branch, archant, local journalism, local media, local news matters, local news matters week, local newspapers, local radio, local tv, lynn news, bbc, bbc radio norfolk, austerity, cuts, great yarmouth, bury st edmunds, colchester, chelmsford