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Local journalism will survive – but funding reforms needed says Sir Harry

Legendary former editor Sir Harold Evans has declared that local journalism “must and will” survive – but called for reforms to ensure it is properly funded.

In an interview for the BBC which has also been carried in his old paper, Sir Harry described local news as “an essential part of democracy.”

Sir Harry, who celebrated his 90th birthday in June, was interviewed by fellow former Echo editor Peter Barron for a BBC documentary on local newspapers which aired in certain regions last night.

A write-up of the interview also appeared in today’s edition of the Darlington-based daily, which Sir Harry edited from 1961 to 1967 before leaving to edit The Sunday Times.


Sir Harry Evans, left, with interviewer Peter Barron

Sir Harry told Peter: “Local journalism is absolutely vital. It must – and will survive, I’m sure of it, because it is such an essential part of democracy.

“But there must be reform to ensure it can be properly funded.”

He went on to argue that some of that funding should come from social media giants, who he claimed lacked accountability and made no financial contribution to the industry.

“Local newspapers also play a vital role in training journalists and they are more trusted and accountable because of their unique connection to communities,” he added.

Sir Harry began his career as a 16-year-old reporter on a weekly newspaper in Ashton-under-Lyne before going on to become assistant editor on the Manchester Evening News and editor of the Echo.

While in Darlington he ran a successful campaign to establish cervical cancer testing on the NHS and won a posthumous pardon for Timothy Evans, who was falsely convicted and hanged for the murder of his wife and baby daughter at 10 Rillington Place in London.

Wrote Peter: “It has been a privilege to meet Sir Harold Evans twice before but the third encounter in London last week was perhaps the most inspiring yet.

“Call me Harry,” he said when I greeted him at BBC Television Centre. “How’s my old paper?”

“He meant The Northern Echo, of course, where he made his name as editor in the 1960s and set the bar so high that none of us who followed could ever hope to reach it.

“It will always be Sir Harry’s Northern Echo to a very significant degree, and it was again a privilege to see that the whirlwind shows no sign of stopping.”

* The documentary aired on BBC 1 in certain regions at 7.30pm last night as part of the Inside Out series.  It can be viewed here on iPlayer.


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  • October 8, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    Sad to say this is wishful thinking and old thinking rather than an acceptance of the reality of the situation.
    There IS no connection to local communities these days due to local papers having so few sales as to no longer be the voice of the areas they once were. Regional publishing is a business, nothing more, and the actions of the owners have, in great part, determined and driven it’s future.
    Reducing staffing to a handful of juniors, lifting pieces wholesale off social media, doing away with photographers and appointing easy to manage people,happy to go along with short sighted and cost cutting decisions from above, have both reduced the quality of the end product and hastened the decline of once popular papers.
    How people access news has changed from the old days of hot metal and the 60s when local papers were the primary source of all things local, now they’re not and no ammount of tub thumping or wishful thinking will change things.
    Local journalism,however,is still thriving in pockets via the many new community newspapers who cover the things that matter to communities, a level of coverage the bigger publishers turned their backs on in the chase for the mythical digital buck which so far none have found .

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  • October 8, 2018 at 3:54 pm

    perhaps he might like to start with my local JP rag. Lot of stories need a re-write. Angles buried several pars down from lazy intros, some stories nothing but one long quote sent in by e mail. The quality needs sorting before the funding.

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  • October 8, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    “ ..“Local newspapers…..more trusted and accountable because of their unique connection to communities…”
    They don’t have a connection to communities anymore, they did when sir Harold was an editor but the times have changed and they’re no longer essential buys for all things local as evidenced by the continuously freefalling copy sales numbers.
    I also wonder why he thinks the social media giants, who’ve made a success of monetising their online news offerings, should subsidise the publishers who’ve chosen to pay themselves huge salaries and bonuses for underperforming and must now stand or fall by their years of poorly considered decisions making which has cost many good staff their jobs.

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  • October 9, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    Why should the online giants pump money into ailing regional publishers who have, by complacency,arrogance and greed, put themselves in a position where their papers are no longer essential,credible or viable to the local people who once so eagerly bought them?
    Their choice was to abandon them and go in persuit if rich online pickings,foolishly believing their print audiences would always be there, when the huge drift away in terms of papers sold and adrevenue achieved show otherwise.

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  • October 9, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    As an “old”hack myself who spent 50 years in journalism at local and national level and in the UK and abroad I would like to emphasise with his remarks. Sadly, however, the world has moved on and many people do not connect with their local paper because staff have been cut to the bone mainly by senior management who have no background or feeling for newspapers but just see them as products. Although we have never met Sir Harold and I come from a background where newspapers reigned supreme and TV/radio were distant cousins when it came to news. Sadly, no longer the case. But even at weekends TV/radio news can be dire for one reason or another.

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