In a report published this week, the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust said there were “few examples of good practice” in local newspaper coverage of the disturbances which broke out a year ago this week.
The report, written by Leicester-based sociology lecturer Dr Leah Bassel, follows on from a conference on Media and the Riots organised by the Trust last November.
It is likely to provide controversial reading for local newspapers in communities directly affected by the riots, many of whom have won industry awards for their work.
The report highlights a presentation at the November conference by Sarah Niblock, professor of journalism at Brunel University, West London.
It said she had found there was “too much emphasis on law and order, driven by too much reliance on official sources and binary notions of good versus bad and us versus them.”
Prof Niblock, said the report, had identified a “cultural sea change that has occurred when new financial priorities made local journalism remote from its readers and which becomes a source of reactive rather than proactive reporting.
“Instead, the status and watchdog role of local journalism needs to be rejuvenated, as a distinct sector with its own values where journalists stay and prosper, living and breathing their patch.”
In a preface to the report, media pundit and City University journalism professor also raises the issue of race in coverage of riots stories.
Speaking about national newspapers and broadcasters, he says: “There is an absence of black editorial executives taking the key decisions about what is published and broadcast. The situation is little better on regional and local newspapers.
However although the report says there were “few examples of good practice in local newspaper coverage of August 2011,” it also highlights the importance of defending and promoting what it called “sound local journalism.”
“While local journalism cannot resolve all the problems identified with media coverage of events of August 2011, longstanding relationships of journalists with communities can go a long way to more balance and constructive coverage.
“Strong local journalism can provide accurate and sensitive coverage that acts as a counterweight to national spin that paints all events with the same brush, though they were in fact diverse events with their own causes and histories.
It calls on journalism employers to set up “workshops” where members of affected communities can “peer review” coverage of sensitive issues and provide journalists with feedback.