There’s a well-known myth which has it that when the Titanic sank, the Aberdeen Press & Journal ran with a front page proclaiming: “Aberdeen Man Drowns At Sea”.
To my great disappointment, the P&J confirmed last month that it was indeed only a myth, but it’s often quoted as an illustration of the lengths regional papers will go to in order to bring a local angle to the big news issues of the day. For me, that’s the critical reason why local newspapers are so important – their sole purpose is to shine a light on the communities they serve.
It’s Local Newspaper Week this week, marking the important role the local press plays in communities across the country, and there’s a critical element of this year’s event – a vote for the best local newspaper campaign of the year.
Local newspapers do more than just report the news. Like all news brands, they connect readers with their communities; they hold authorities and businesses to account; and in the case of local campaigns, they can create real, effective and lasting change in the areas they serve.
Quite often, these campaigns resonate far beyond local town boundaries. A few years ago, the Edinburgh Evening News won deserved plaudits for breaking the story of the baby ashes scandal at Mortonhall Crematorium. That led to compensation for the families involved, and action being taken by Edinburgh City Council to avoid a repeat of the scandal.
Local newspaper campaigns can range from highly emotive and nationally significant issues like this, to local events which galvanise the whole community and create impassioned debate.
It’s often said that one of the signs of a healthy, functioning democracy is a free press, and local newspapers are a critical part of that equation. Without the efforts of local journalists, the incredible range of issues represented by this year’s shortlist of campaigns might never have been brought to the surface.
Local papers also act as breeding grounds for great journalistic talent. Many of today’s best-known reporters started life in local press; many of them choose to remain in local papers, contributing to the incredible variety and depth of quality news coverage.
At the start of Local Newspaper Week, let’s all show our support for great Scottish local newspaper campaigns. There are some terrific examples on the Local Newspaper Week website; from a campaign to prevent suicide among young people in Dundee, to a call to stop armed police patrols in the Highlands.
So if you haven’t heard this too often over the last few weeks – please vote! You can follow the campaign this week using the hashtag #makingadifference
Bryan Garvie is a former news reporter at the Irvine Times, and currently a director at The BIG Partnership.