Thursday, 11 February 2010

Can The Mirror save local journalism?

Trinity Mirror has bought Guardian Media Group Regional Titles.

The Rochdale Observer offices will have a second move in a year - from Rochdale to Manchester and now to Oldham.

Times are tough for inkies - as freesheets and other media streams have diverted already dwindling advertising revenues. Youngsters don't seem to read newspapers.
Is this the final nail in the coffin of local journalism?

We don't think so.

In fact, there is a strong argument to suggest that this move could actually SAVE and IMPROVE journalism for Rochdale. Proper journalism, not daft little blogs (like this) or Council Propaganda sheets like Local Matters, or shameless Pollyanna advertorials (furtively backed by the local Council) like the new Rochdale & Heywood Independent.

Journalism requires an element of objectivity and intelligence. It takes some thinking about. It is different from "churnalism" - the taking of professional press releases that are simply cut and pasted as copy.

Years ago, many saw the Rochdale Observer as a joke. It didn't reflect or report our town. It was patronising and blinkered by a local Establishment bias. The Great and the Good included mill owners, Freemasons, Curtain Theatre attending Rotarians, grammar school golfers and wife swapping businessmen. Ob readers - ordinary Rochdalians - were generally hard working folk who were made to know their place. Decades ago, the Rochdale Observer editorial policy tended to reflect that. There were no awkward investigations into wrong-doing or injustice. If local politicians were in the "Rochdale Observer Club" then they could get away with almost anything.
Then in 1970 came the Rochdale Alternative Press. A revelation to many in our town that knew that things were not as rosy as was stated in th'Ob.

New technology in the form of cheap lithographic printing opened up political speech and local debate. It was a product of its day: a time of radical, angry, long haired hippy types who had benefited from the 1948 Education Act and had got themselves a voice and an inquiring mind. In style, RAP was anti-establishment, cheeky and crude but acknowledged it was sometimes crass, preaching and up its own arse. An Oz of the North. It had the dangerous feel of a freethinking underground pamphlet. Thirty years after its last edition RAP is still remembered by many with affection.
One of its biggest scoops was The Strange Case of Smith the Man- the detailed investigation of the sex abuse allegations relating to Cyril Smith at Cambridge House lad's hostel. Smith never sued. The Rochdale Observer NEVER mentioned a word of the scandal.

Since the Rochdale Observer left its Drake Street home there has been a subtle shift in its reporting and editorial voice. It is as if the local Liberal Democrat strangle hold has slightly eased. Some dissent gets through. Some awkward questions are asked. This could be because of the physical distance from Rochdale (no more Lib Dem politicians barging through the office doors threatening the Editors? - fewer cosy chicken dinners at Freemason's Hall in Richard Street or quiet chats in the interlude at the Curtain Theatre?). It could be that the reporters are younger, less grounded locally and less deferential of the Old Local Establishment. The Law of Unintended Consequences may have helped - technology such as digital cameras, T'interweb emails and smartphones gives local people the chance to help journalists with sources of news in a way that doesn't need a trip to Drake Street or a professional PR letterhead. Finally there is the fact that readers' comments can be put online - allowing for a new type of feedback - raw, honest, irreverant and something that can grow organically into a bigger story. It is all quite fresh and imperfect and it is new ground for journalism.

Some lament the loss of a local office for local news - but take a look at the content of bygone Rochdale Observers - the traditional Ob fayre of photos of bonnie babies, pothole pointing politicians, the Ugly Page (drinkers "out on the town") and boy scouts rescuing cats from trees can be done over the phone and net.

Meanwhile, Paul Rowen's former spin doctor, Dave Hennigan, is back...

...only for a wee while, just to voice his opinion of the Trinity Mirror takeover.
His slipperly views are actually quite revealing. Remember, this is the little chap who wrote the front page grovelling apology in the Ob when Paul Rowen threatened to sue about reporting of his Parliamentary expenses in June 2009. It was a calucated gamble that saved Paul's bacon in the short run. (But as the facts come out about Rochdale Lib Dem finances it could become a problem that may bite him on his rosey cheeks).
Tomorrow's front cover
Dave's calculated risk of a legal threat to the Ob was based on a number known factors: Guardian Media Group's Regional Titles had shaky finances so wouldn't want to risk litigation, a new Editor didn't have much support from a Head Office that still had some residual Liberal sympahies.

For spin paramedic Dave Hennignan to lament local journalism is cunning bullshit. During the golden years of this shower's reign of spin - the controlling mind of the Rochdale Observer was the Stockport office of Richard Catlow.

So, although the Obby will be produced in Oldham by a national media title, perhaps our local newspaper will have a more robust voice?

Could the bad old days be over when allegations of serious sexual abuse are silenced?
The next time a piss poor politician, with mysterious revenue streams, tries to sue the Rochdale Observer, proper media lawyers from that there London could be on hand to defend proper journalism.

Could Kevin Maguire help out with the Trinity Mirror's newest regional title?


Anonymous said...

Good article

The Observer needs to change and let's hope Trinity Mirror can give them a more fearless edge.

All media has to change including that flaccid organ Rochdale Online. No journalists, no video, no podcasts, no webcasting. They act as though Web 2.0 hasn't happened. They're very much stuck in the 90s. And their owner is stuck in the 80s.

town centre doorstaff said...

no, the 'owner' is stuck into his new advertising exec.

How insecure does he have to be in order to have his meat and two veg fettled in public? It was putting the youngters off their alchopops in Pacific.

Naughty boy.
What would Jesus do?

Mole said...

You should be looking into the repeated attempts by Cllr Greg Couzens to take the Rochdale Council advertising budget (for Public Notices) away from the Rochdale Observer and over to Rowen Online and Richard Catlow's new little venture the Pennine Pravda (The Rochdale & Heywood "Independent").

Yet another example of Rochdale Lib Dem misuse of public monies (after Alan Taylor's old office plush purple pelmet etc...)

Rowen's Banana Republic were the tazpaying public gets stuffed.

Town Hall Pravda Watch said...

GMGRN's always made good money and were not protected by the Scott Trust's shield of "Liberal Principles".

The vain Channel M project pissed money like a racehorse on dope.

The new ultimate boss lady of the Rochdale Observer is spot on regarding the threat of proper journalism from Council propaganda sheets.

And Trinity Mirror Sly Bailey's comments at the Oxford Media Convention were even the Guardian

Anonymous said...

Of course Piss-Poor Online thinks that the age of newsprint is dead and that it is the torchbearer of fine, on-line pornolism... sorry, I mean, journalism. A brief scan through its newspages will serve to put that illusion to bed. A few English primers distributed amongst the workforce would not go amiss and Porno might do well to spend less time smearing vaseline on his lenses and more time on learning how to write a story without forcing his trite and egotistical opinions down the throats of his readers.

There is of course much room for improvement with the Ob. It has rarely been anything other than dire.It had the biggest story in years under its nose but ignored it leaving RAP to scoop awards for the Alderglen Bond-Slaves story.

Any takeover can only bring improvement.

Kelly said...

And Trinity Mirror will not look favourably to Rowen Online's plagerism.

Cut and paste churnalism from public authorities, the odd 2am moan and groan from Malcolm and photos of scantily dressed young women do not make a "news" site.

It is handy for the little band of locals that use the 'forum' now that CB Radio has gone out of fashion. But the things they say in emails and Facebook behind peoples backs is very sad.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear oh dear! What is happening at the asylum?

After years of pissing off the residents of the borough, after weeks of squabbling amongst themselves and stabbing each other in the back the Lib Dems are on the attack against the local media. Oh yes they are. Can you believe it.

We have Greg lad calling the mighty Rochdale Online “liars” with Porno retaliating telling them to sue. Is this the same man who lied to the beeb?

We have drunken Dave slagging off the Obby say the Editor was “very poor”.

Is this the new media strategy?

Don’t worry they have the Rochdale & Middleton Independent now with a circulation of 4. Who needs Rochdale Online and Observer now with the next edition coming to a toilet oh sorry I mean a petrol station near you soon. Can't wait.

Blackstone Edge said...

that is nothing. Wait until Rochdale Lib Dems face the Queen's justice...

...and that is not the 'firm grip' of Cyril or the warm rosey glow of Paul R.

Anonymous said...

The Fib Dems haven't updated there website for a month now - the old saying "no news is good news" springs to mind!

Anonymous said...

you mean say nowt do nowt