Local News – The Future

screenshot courtesy of Ledger Live

We’re all familiar with a newspaper’s ‘comment’ section. Or, as some of them like to call it, their ‘opinion’.

These have been stalwarts of print journalism for many years. But, as Toby Coaker outlined for videojournalismonline back in January, The Times is the only UK based paper to transfer this type of journalism onto the web in video format.

In the States things are a bit different – one example of local political opinion transforming into online video is Ledger Live, from New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger.

Here Brian Donohue gives an often sarcastic/satirical take on the affairs of local government.

A good example is this not too complimentary assessment of Govenor Christie’s selective economic policy.

How does this relate to the UK?

Donohue’s producing something that doesn’t really exist in the UK, because national broadcasters (the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky) have to be impartial and national newspapers just haven’t got on board with the idea behind Ledger Live.

The Future

David Cameron’s been a champion of local government since his time in opposition.

As Prime Minister he’s devolving power and says he wants to create more vibrancy in local politics – to get people interested in the affairs of their local councils as part of his ‘Big Society’.

And Jeremy Hunt’s plans for local TV news slip nicely into line with this ideal.

But if the whole plan works and political activism flourishes once again in the boroughs and constituencies of the UK, you can bet that intense frustration will be kindled in the general public when it comes to local TV news.

Local output’s required to be impartial too. As a result Council failure won’t be reported with the angst needed to reflect the voters’ views.

In this political climate there’ll be an opportunity for partial ‘comment’ or ‘opinion’, and the websites of local newspapers will be the platform capable of supporting such a development.

Could they afford it?

On one hand it’s unhelpful to draw comparisons between state newspapers in the USA and their British ‘equivalents’ because New Jersey, for example, has a population of about 9 million and the Star-Ledger’s circulation is about 220,000.

Each UK constituency has an electorate about 66% smaller than the Star-Ledger’s readership, and local papers would reach dramatically less than that.

But print journalism’s suffering in the US in the same way it is here.

Sponsoring online video is now an option – adverts screened prior to the content beginning – and could bring in valuable revenue.

And if Ledger Live shows us something else about the future, it’s that you only need basic equipment to bring politics alive for the next media generation.

Here’s The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank proving this very point. Can you imagine a similar video poking fun at 4 or 5 candidates in Garston and Halewood?

Can Local Get Vocal?

By Alex Dibble

Can we make any predictions about the future of local TV news using current video trends?

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s got big plans.

He wants to create ‘Channel 6’ – a terrestrial television option which would provide local news to around 80 different areas in the country.

Everyone within the industry’s keen on the idea. The problem is, they just don’t see it working – financially or editorially.

At the moment the BBC can’t get involved because their presence would suffocate a local media already gasping for breath.

So that leaves commercial organisations to step up to the plate, which would require small businesses in your area to buy advert spots to fund the whole thing. But small businesses don’t have any money.

At a conference on local TV at City University back in November, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie – who helped Trinity Mirror launch local news network Live TV in 1995 – summed up the general feeling in the room. He said: “The idea of local TV is a complete disaster and anybody going into it is completely nuts.”

When asked if there was any way in which Hunt’s dreams could become reality, he answered that the content would have to be provided by the viewers: citizen journalism, user generated content, people sending in video.

It would look “amateurish” and nobody would want to watch it, but to balance the books that was the only possible avenue.

Is there currently anything that resembles this kind of production?

Well, maybe, but it’s not TV.

Local newspapers are operating on a shoestring budget today, yet many of them still produce video content.

Small papers published by Archant are so underfunded that one photo of an ambulance accompanies every ‘hospital’ story. But even the Islington Gazette found a way to imbed footage of ‘chaos’ at a council meeting.

At the 2009 Newspaper Awards, Cambridge News was commended for its video content, and if there’s a video organism capable of evolving into what Hunt imagines, it’s probably this.

Videos are short – mostly around a minute  – and give viewers a simple overview of what’s going on in the area.

It’s nothing special at all, but provides exactly what Cambridge residents would want it to.

But under current Ofcom guidelines it wouldn’t be allowed on a news broadcast because of it’s promotional slant, and many other videos on their website fall into this category.

For this reason Jeremy Hunt’s got more issues to think through than he initially envisaged.

Another example is the Yorkshire Post.

Again, it’s not rocket science to produce something like this. And, with it not being time-specific (i.e. not needing to be broadcast on the same day it was filmed), it lends itself perfectly for local TV news.

But is it interesting enough? And on a station covering a larger area would it make the editorial cut? Probably not.

It’s hard, then, to disagree with Mr MacKenzie.