By Patrick Smith


What happens when your local newspaper leaves town? The people of Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester found out 18 months ago when the Tameside Advertiser office (right) shut and its journalists were either sacked or moved seven miles west to Manchester city centre, home of the paper’s parent company MEN Media, now part of Trinity Mirror’s regional empire.

Then still part of Guardian Media Group, in March 2009 MEN Media moved each of its 23 local weekly papers out of their home towns (via paidContent:UK) – where some had been for more than 150 years – and moved them into the Manchester Evening News HQ on Deansgate.

The Advertiser was the first newspaper office I ever set foot in. As a naive 18-year-old with an interest in news and burning desire not to have a boring job, I did a couple of weeks’ “work experience”, the more innocent predecessor to the modern media quasi-slavery of “interning“.

Accompanying a reporter to the inquest of a four-week-old baby who had fallen prey to sudden infant death syndrome (cot death if you prefer) was exactly the sort of eye-opening experience a young reporter needs to find out that reporting on people’s lives – and deaths – really isn’t a game or something to be taken lightly.

Local pride

What instantly hit you then about that office – and about every local/regional newspaper operation I’ve seen or worked on – was the connection people felt towards the title. The sense of ownership created a strange mixture of pride and anger when reporters didn’t get something right or were chasing the “wrong” story.

The office front desk secetary would have to deal with queues of people with delivery problems; mothers and grandads asking for re-prints of pictures of smiling brothers and nieces who appeared in the news pages last week, or people with “a cracking story” about fences or dogshit who demanded to see a reporter right now.

All that is gone.

The paper now runs “surgeries” in Ashton once a week. But it pales in comparison to days when almost every one of Tameside’s nine towns had its own reporter, who cared about his or her patch and knew the people who knew what was going on. Online, the paper’s website has been subsumed into the MEN site – emphasising the current reality that the weekly MEN titles are now extensions of the main Manchester Evening News brand.

I’m a digital believer: I think the growth of online news publishing will eventually replace and maybe even improve on what local and regional news consumers currently enjoy – with added multimedia audio/video and an interactive, participatory element to newsgathering that has simply never been possible until now.

Big Media companies like Trinity Mirror can work with smaller start-ups, amateur bloggers and clued-up citizens. Indeed, Trinity is doing just that in Birmingham in a new hyperlocal intitiative (via with the best of Brum’s local online journalists. The scheme has the blessing of Paul Bradshaw and Will Perrin, of Talk About Local, and if those two think it’s a positive step for the development of hyperlocal sites in that city, then it probably is.

But all this is for the future. The present for the people of Ashton is a boarded up office, journalists based seven miles away and fewer of them being paid to care what happens to real people.

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