Thousands will no longer refer to the community newspaper that appears in their letterbox as “the local rag”.
They have a new-found respect because they either realised what they had missed during the Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown or were grateful that publishers had continued to supply local news in those challenging times.
When the Level 4 lockdown was declared, community newspapers (and magazines) were inexplicably omitted from news media deemed to be essential businesses. There seemed to be an outdated belief that community newspapers were only delivered by vulnerable children. Days after the ban, there was a partial loosening of the rule to allow publications in remote rural areas and ethnic communities. Many titles, however, could not print or could not make letterbox deliveries. Digital editions continued and local residents expressed their gratitude for continuing local coverage but, for many older readers, that was no compensation for the loss of the local newspaper…
Urban community titles owned by Stuff and NZME are reappearing. These publications have in recent years been characterised by a large amount of content shared across titles in regional groupings in the name of cost-cutting. Stuff’s Auckland titles, for example, mainly carry supercity-wide stories and columns that are common across the publications. There is little, if any, truly local news. The reactions of readers of independent community newspapers that concentrate on local – some would call it hyperlocal – news might send a message to these group owners. If they want readers and advertisers, they may have to find ways of returning to the days of local news in local newspapers.
The eight-page Central Leader that reappeared in my Lynfield letterbox recently carried a commendable front-page editorial exhorting reader to support local businesses – “Backyourbackyard” – but not one story related to my suburb or even my part of Auckland…
The real attraction of community newspapers lies in that description. They need to be about the local community, the people you know, or the people you recognise and to whom you can now put a name.
The closest I have is produced by my neighbours Kerrie and John Subritzky. The Beacon is a modest publication, a newsletter more than a newspaper, and has just had its fourth anniversary. It is printed outside of Auckland and was caught out by the lockdown. The April issue was delivered last week. It is unashamedly “parish pump news and all the little things that go on in our community”…
How each publisher defines community news will be influenced by the extent of the circulation area but the most engaged never lose sight of street level. They need to be enthusiastic champions of their own area, which makes local ownership a major advantage. And, as we are gripped by global pandemic, they need courage.