Making local news : journalism, culture and place
In the closing decade of the twentieth century Joümalism was perceived to be in crisis, as profit-driven, corporatized media conglomerates seemed to enforce market driven editorial approaches. What debate there was about such matters in the UK tended to focus on the national news media, particularly that section of the press colloquially known as `Fleet Street'. Yet the impact of these tendencies was also apparently evident among local newspapers, which Tunstall (1996) said had suffered `meltdown'. These titles supposedly contained less news and more newszak (Franklin 1997). One of the most notable consequences of this trend , was an apparent decline in the amount of political information published. Yet at the end of the 1990s more politics was introduced into the UK with the establishment of devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Drawing on descriptions and analyses of the local press in the USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, as well as other parts of the UK, this study explores the contemporary making of local news by taking a snapshot of the local press in south-east Wales at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and against the backdrop of the introduction of the National Assembly for Wales. Interviews with a group of local newspaper editors and with a number of journalism educators; documentary and data analysis; post factor participant observation and a short non-participant observation, and thematic textual analysis of a time-based sample of fourteen English-language weekly, two evening, one morning and one Sunday newspapers were undertaken. Specific attention was paid to the reporting of politics. The persistent idea of proximity - the role of constructs of territorial and cognitive place - in journalism was taken as a starting point to utilize the work of Aldridge (2003), Griffin (2002), Hartley (1998), Law (2001), Rossow and Dunwoody (1991) and Temple (2004) to suggest forms of journalism which were banal, precise, enabling and affiliated. These indicated that what was called `news' was routinely scoped, mobilizing identity, utility and association, around what was believed to constitute territorial and cognitive belonging. Moreover, senses of belonging were often complementary rather than conflicting. These ideas challenge the orthodoxy that news is primarily scaled (from `small' to `big') and that journalism is essentially competitive. While it was found that these conditions were not exclusive to the local press, the ways in which they were configured were specific. The key aspect was the preparedness of journalists to concede their `professional' claims to news-making to contributing members of the public. That this occurred far more readily in the local press led to the conclusion that local journalism was not merely a minor variant of journalism practised elsewhere, but a distinct emergent form more ambivalently related to press commercialism. Furthermore, it is suggested that formal press structures and the accepted hierarchies of journalism no longer express as precisely as they were once assumed to such distinctions in contemporary editorial approaches.