Local News Matters - Journalism is reaching a crunch point & we must defend what we still have

  • 09 Mar 2020

People turn to local and Welsh national media to find out about decisions that have a vast impact on their lives.

by Nick Powell, father of the chapel at ITV Wales and chair of the NUJ's Welsh Executive Council

Whatever is holding back local and Wales-wide journalism, it certainly isn't the range and importance of what needs coverage and scrutiny.

  • A government that spends £16 billion every year and levies income tax on its citizens.
  • A health service that spends more per head than the English NHS but struggles to meet the needs of an older population.
  • A state-owned airport and a state-controlled rail operator, albeit one that pays a private company to run the trains.
  • A natural resources agency which is trying to strengthen the nation's flood defences but has also been blamed for causing flooding.

It would be a disaster for democracy if any of the above was not scrutinised by a range of well-resourced media. Yet the actions of the Welsh government and its agencies pass almost completely unnoticed by the UK's national broadcasters, newspapers and websites, some of which are consumed by nearly everyone in Wales.

People turn to local and Welsh national media to find out about decisions that have a vast impact on their lives. It's there that politicians are held to account about radical changes in the school curriculum, cutbacks and closures in A&E departments, hugely controversial road schemes and much more besides.

At first glance the Welsh citizen seems well-served in print, online and on air. The national newspaper, the Western Mail and its Reach plc stablemate in the north, the Daily Post, appear every morning, the main cities have their evening titles (even if they are now printed overnight) and many of the former mining valleys and rural towns have weekly newspapers.

But all the daily titles have seen falling numbers of journalists and declining circulations. Online readership has grown but without producing anything like the revenue that print has lost. Many of those weekly papers now share the same content on all but the front and back pages.

BBC Wales is a major media player, though the threat to the licence fee casts a shadow over its future and that of the Welsh language television channel, S4C. ITV Wales continues to punch above its weight but nothing is guaranteed beyond the end of the current Channel 3 licences in 2024. A once vibrant network of local radio stations has been hit by cutbacks and consolidation.

Citizen journalism sometimes fills some of the gaps. Wales can claim to be the home of publications produced by unpaid enthusiasts, with its network of Welsh language papurau bro. There's not much point mourning what has been lost but journalism is reaching a crunch point and we must do all we can to defend what we still have - and rebuild from it.

The Welsh government and the Welsh parliament or senedd have seen an enormous growth in power in their 20 years' existence. But power needs scrutiny, not 'journalism' of the sort demonstrated by one local newspaper article. It consisted simply of a government press release published verbatim, complete with the disclaimer of liability for email viruses at the end.

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