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Regional press should consider political endorsements, says Higgerson

HiggersonA regional digital chief has suggested local newspapers could break with tradition and endorse political candidates editorially.

Trinity Mirror Regionals digital publishing director David Higgerson says such a move may see high profile politicians pay more attention to the industry during election campaigns.

David’s suggestion comes after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published research into local press access to both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the run up to the General Election.

The research was conducted by former Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies, who spoke to nearly 60 local journalists and analysed more than 80 visits by the party leaders, and revealed Mr Corbyn has done fewer interviews with regional papers but Mrs May has been less forthcoming with the answers she had given.

Most regional papers have remained neutral in the election in keeping with long-held tradition in the industry.

Last week Keith Harrison, editor of Wolverhampton daily the Express & Star, denied his newspaper was backing the Tories despite running an editorial which claimed Mrs May will make a “far superior” Prime Minister to Mr Corbyn.

But on his personal blog, David wrote: “Maybe we’d carry more clout at party HQs if we were more than just a vehicle for reporting the election, but actually stated who we thought would do the best job for our local area. Yes, I know editorial impartiality is something we treasure, but we also pride ourselves on fighting for our communities and informing our communities.

“Last week, the Wolverhampton Express and Star got journalism’s watchers chattering with a rather punch editorial column which suggested the titles was coming out in favour of the Tories. Not so, said editor Keith Harrison.

“I don’t generally like leader columns in regional papers, especially daily ones. Too often, they are forced to offer a view on something which doesn’t really warrant a view, or they bend over backwards to offer several sides of an argument, concluding with something trite like ‘The important thing, of course, is that all views are heard.’

“So the Express and Star editorial was at least honest. The fact it provoked a debate within journalism speaks volumes for how generally placid our opinions are.”

David went on to suggest the UK local press adopt the American regional newspaper tradition of endorsing candidates without allowing it to “define their coverage”.

He added: “Daily, I see reporters expressing political opinions on Twitter and Facebook, because they are human beings. It does not call into question the ability of their titles to be fair and balanced? I don’t think so.”

David concluded: “We aren’t going to shame political parties into talking to us. But the size of our engaged audience can be used to carry an informed message, and ensure a new level of political scrutiny and accountability.

“If that were to happen, I think it’s a safe bet May’s answers would be a little more interesting, and Corbyn’s diary would suddenly have more time for the local newsrooms which reach, and engage with, the very people they need to win over.”

10 comments

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  • June 6, 2017 at 7:53 am
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    One minute Higgerson brushes aside claims of impartiality and says party political wraps are a good sign and good for regional papers ( funnily enough as his papers were carrying them) the next he says we need to ‘shame ‘ politicians into speaking to us to be taken seriously and oh while we’re at it perhaps we should nail our colours to the mast and declare our allegiances to one party or the other,whilst remaining impartial in our coverage (?) confused? I am.

    If the papers were deemed of value to the local public and had enough ‘quality’ content and a substantial readership base to warrant advertisers using them and people buying them he wouldn’t have to suggest the last resort of shaming politicians to get noticed or be taken seriously, however once the key elements of why people buy a paper go they are no longer seen as credible to local businesses, local communities or national parties looking to reach vast audiences for votes.
    Then we have the editor of the express and star quick to distance himself and his paper from the 4 page cover wrap happily published in his paper ( after they’ve taken the money no doubt) ,suddenly not wanting to be seen to endorse the conservatives presumably after realising the backlash in doing so would cause in lost readership and ad revenues.
    Wanting your cake and eating it as they say.

    The day local publishers give up true impartiality and come down in favour of one party or another thereby alienating a large proportion of a dwindling readership will be the final nail in an already nail covered coffin.

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  • June 6, 2017 at 10:15 am
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    Hi Jazzie. You probably are confused!

    What I actually said about election advertising generally, and not specifically the wraps was: “Is it a good sign that a political party, after several elections of largely ignoring the regional press, are looking at us as a way to communicate with voters once again? I would argue yes”.

    In the blog I wrote about elections, I didn’t say we should shame parties into talking to us. I said I don’t think we can. The body of evidence produced by the Bureau shows that politicians aren’t really taking regional journalism seriously in many cases – but nothing is new about this, so shaming won’t work.

    It’s entirely possible to be impartial in reporting while at the same time expressing a carefully considered view on which party is promising to do best by the area overall. Metro newspapers in America have done so for decades.

    Readership in print is declining, but readership of our journalism is at a near all-time high. Not just single page visits, but readers who return day in, day out to read about local life.

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  • June 6, 2017 at 11:20 am
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    Is he serious?
    Telling readers who to vote for?
    Does he seriously think people value his, or a local paper editors opinion on which way to vote and what to think?
    Or that they’re incapable of making up their own minds without the perceived benefit of his wisdom?

    So out of sync he just doesn’t get it does he

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  • June 6, 2017 at 1:35 pm
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    “the size of our engaged audience can be used to carry an informed message”

    Audience? Audience? Wotever happened to readers? Oh, we must must be at the theatre! What’s on? Why, it’s the popular farce called “Whoops, There Goes Our Credibility!” 😉

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  • June 6, 2017 at 2:46 pm
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    DH
    the reason parties use local papers, particularly with a cover wrap, isn’t due to anything other than they can legitimately takeover an entire weekly newspapers covers with a fake news political message and with the blessing of the publisher who gives it credibility by allowing it to appear in the style of and under the mast head of a local paper. They do it simply because they can knowing publishers are desperate for any ad revenue they can get and at any cost.
    Dangle a few thousand pounds under an ad reps nose for a wrap and tell me how many editors these days, would be allowed to turn it down?
    It’s no wonder the ones who carry them then come out and try to damage limitate by pleading impartiality.
    The political parties haven’t suddenly decided the local paper is the best medium to reach an audience,especially at a time when copy sales are in free fall,but if it can be passed off as front page news why not grab it,and wraps are not possible,or anywhere as effective on a web page so the audience numbers you mention in this case are irrelevant.
    If the covers were out of bounds would the parties be happy to run the four pages inside? That’s the test of whether they value a papers readership ,and I think we all know the answer to that one.

    Likewise,how many editors would happily run cover wraps around their papers out of choice?
    How many would see them as valued parts of the paper if it weren’t pushed upon them by commercial heads under the guise of ‘much needed ad revenue’?
    How many are happy that their real news cover and regular front back page advertisers are hidden beneath a fake news political message ‘advert’ which is likely to alienate a vast number of their readers, angered that these are allowed to be published in their local paper?
    Answer: None.
    As for being taken seriously by politicians, the more desperate and devalued the paper becomes through this type of commercial stunt, which does nothing but lose yet more credibility for the paper and publisher, the less the politicians will see them as credible mediums in which to seek to appear, so you can’t then complain and wonder why “….politicians aren’t really taking regional journalism seriously”

    Employ an erudite political columnist to give his own views and opinions on what’s best for local voters if you must but for an editor representing a news paper or publisher to come down on one side of the political fence or the other is guaranteed to upset and lose hundreds of much needed readers, numbers no publisher can afford to lose.
    You can’t have your cake and eat it much as you’d like to, it’s a choice:
    run political cover wraps,declare which party you support and tell people how to vote or remain and be seen to remain wholly a independent news source.

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  • June 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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    You seem to have all the answers there Jazzie, so probably not much point going on here. You certainly have more answers to questions than anyone else does, or could do. All I ask is that you stick to what I actually said/wrote, rather than picking bits to bash taken out of context.

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  • June 6, 2017 at 6:01 pm
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    Merely pointing out what’s obvious to me and many others David looking at the comments on social media around political wraps, neutrality of local papers and the folly of chasing a quick buck at the cost of long term credibility of local publishing

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  • June 6, 2017 at 7:03 pm
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    ‘readership of our journalism is at a near all-time high’

    Well Mr Digital Chief, its your job to make the web pay. Not working very well is it.

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  • June 7, 2017 at 1:07 pm
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    I’ll bet there have been some panic managers meetings across the bigger players as to a strategy on accepting political wraps after this whole can of worms was opened and I’ll also bet the editors and bloggers who saw nothing wrong in allowing them to appear on their papers are wishing they’d either kept quiet after taking the money and been seen to lose whatever credibility they may have had while the ad managers run their hands with glee st the extra few quid these have added to the figures that particular week or actually spoken up against them in the first place.

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  • June 8, 2017 at 11:02 am
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    And with the polls as impossible to call as they have been, what happens to the papers which endorse a party and get it wrong?
    Or is Mr Higgerson suggesting that chucking away half your audience and just appealing to supporters of a single party, turning every regional into a miniature Daily Mail of one stripe or another, is a viable marketing strategy when papers are struggling for every reader they’ve got and digital – I hate to keep rubbing it in, but it’s the elephant in the room – still doesn’t really make any money after two decades and more of empty promises?

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