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Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active

Why Does Independent, Ethical Local News Still Matter?

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How the stealth corporate takeover of local news sources impacts climate activism

The kind of ‘content generation’ exposed in this article, from our pilot Facebook Newspaper Review group The Salisbury Journal Review, is in many ways the most insidious of all.  

We urge you to read it, but in essence it highlights another typical example of  lazy, cheap, unethical journalism that has now become standard practice in our local papers – writing ‘reaction’ articles based on nothing more than social media responses.

We’ve written elsewhere about the steady replacement of human journalists with robots, but if this is most human ‘journalists’ aspire to, it won’t really make much difference.

Apart from boosting shareholder Return On Investment (algorithms work 24/7 and don’t go on strike). 

And so long as, having done a degree in journalism, you’re not expecting to get a job that has anything to do with what you studied.

Whether these kinds of social-media-scraping articles are written by humans or algorithms, they’re the opposite of ethical journalism. That’s our objection.

Sure, as the Internet obliterated their traditional business model of selling papers and the ads printed on them, conglomerates hoovered up moribund local titles. 

Sure, the corporate hoovers made a huge strategic error in deciding to give away their content for free in the early days.

Sure, every business has to make a living, and they’re not charities (more on that later…).

None of this would matter, were it not for the fact that these corporate-owned zombie titles still claim to be ‘newspapers’, when they’re really advertising platforms in disguise.

See Through News has written extensively about the broader implications of the corporate takeover of local newspapers. If you want to know more:

  • Go to www.seethroughnews.org and search for ‘journalism’
  • Join The See Through News Newspaper Review Project Facebook Group

Both seek to educate the public on the serious consequences of this under-reported corporate takeover. 

The stealth takeover of local news by cost-cutting agglomerators like Newsquest Media Group Ltd, have lowered standards of local journalism. 

Journalists trade rag The Press Gazette is one of the few media sources regularly raising the alarm over this under-reported crisis in local journalism. 

Introducing their latest newsletter, and reflecting on how politicians are now trying to charge journalists to attend their party conferences, Dominic Ponsford ruefully observes,

These days a ten-minute rewrite of a celebrity’s Instagram post can reach thousands more online readers than a rigorously researched political policy story.

The economics of serious journalism about sometimes obscure political debates does not always add up.

Given that 90% of all Britain’s surviving local newspaper titles are owned by 5 corporate agglomerators, who all operate the same business model, this issue will have been replicated all over the country.

Regular readers will know that the Journal’s owner, Newsquest Media Group Ltd, is the biggest of the UK’s five local news conglomerates.  

They’ll also know that it’s 100% owned by the 2nd biggest such agglomerator in the US, Gannett. Which is in turn owned by New York hedge fund New Media Investment Group.  

Not even the board directors’ mothers have heard of the NMIG, yet it’s the great-grandparent company of The Salisbury Journal, and 200+ other zombie local titles Newsquest has hoovered up, sacked journalists from, and replaced news with advertising in.

On Thursday July 7th, the House of Commons Committee for Digital, Culture Media and Sport had a hearing which was supposed to include such issues. 

Eminent Cassandras, who’ve been jumping up and down trying to do something to halt the corporate bulldozing of our local media, were scheduled to speak. 

Among them, former Times and Observer editor George Brock, who chairs the Charitable Journalism Project

The CJP campaigns to level the playing field for struggling surviving independent newspapers a tiny bit in their struggle against the  corporate giants.

Their idea is to persuade the Charities Commission to recognise local news as a Public Good. This would give genuine local newspapers Davids a much-need tax break in their battle with the corporate Goliaths. It would also provide the boost of the imprimatur of social benefit, that charitable status would confer.

To be fair, Thursday July 7th 2022 was far from a typical day for a Committee hearing. But even if everyone in the room hadn’t been checking their phones for updates on the latest government resignations, the fact that things have been allowed to get so bad in the first place, doesn’t offer much hope of government intervention to support ethical journalism.

For anyone still wondering why See Through News, with our Goal of Speeding Up Carbon Drawdown by Helping the Inactive Become Active spends so much time banging on about local newspapers, consider:

  1. If people believe ‘all journalists are the same’, and still believe their corporate-owned local newspaper is practising journalism, and not covert advertising, fact-based ethical journalism is also tarnished.
  1. And if none of us ‘trusts the media’, we get to pick our own facts.
  1. And if we pick our own facts, how are we even going to engage with the issues of climate change, let alone the solutions?