Has media freedom just been driven off a Cliff?

It was a clash between two great British institutions, both with decades of entertainment history behind them, both with massive fan bases, and both with their fair share of detractors.

But it was Sir Cliff Richard who ended up with his best-known song ringing in his ears yesterday after a landmark victory over the BBC which appears to have created a new red line for media coverage of police investigations.

It’s not often that the first half of the 10 O’Clock News turns into a live media law lecture.

And it’s a shame that one of the most interesting and significant developments in media law for several years ended up happening while our lecture theatres are empty.

But there is plenty of material to keep people like me busy – plus plenty to talk about in the autumn.

And this isn’t some arcane, academic, ivory-tower discussion point.

The judgement of Mr Justice Mann raises ethical and practical issues that could affect the way every single journalist in this country operates.

His ruling that people being investigated by the police have a reasonable expectation of privacy is in some ways no surprise after other cases in recent years – such as Hannon – have moved the law in this direction.

But it has understandably unleashed a serious backlash of concern – from the BBC itself, from highly experienced journalists, from media organisations and from specialist lawyers.

The judge’s conclusion that the BBC’s public interest argument could only be supported as far as coverage of an anonymised investigation – and not as far as identifying the celebrity target – is said to be a chilling restriction on media freedom and a green light for police obstructiveness or even abuse.

As usual, the Sun summed up its objections beautifully – even if the shotgunning of any more into one word offends my eye.

But is it correct?

The example of serial predator TV presenter Stuart Hall is rightly used in arguments against the sort of legal ban on naming suspects who have not yet been charged which Mr Justice Mann now seems to have created. Women came forward to strengthen the police case after he had been named at the arrest stage by the media.

Mr Justice Mann disregarded the notion that there was any ‘shaking of the tree’ merit in naming Sir Cliff.

And for every Stuart Hall there is a Christopher Jefferies – someone whose life was ruined by outrageous media coverage of an arrest that the courts agreed could have prevented justice being done.

Some red herrings have also been thrown into the debate: I saw a very experienced media lawyer suggesting the latest ruling would stop legitimate coverage of investigations into abuse by teachers – as if that unique pre-charge identification ban in Section 13 of the 2011 Education Act was all a dream. And there was concern on yesterday’s excellent Media Show that police appeals to find named and dangerous suspects could expose titles to legal risks – despite the long-standing reassurance burnt onto the eyeballs of all NCTJ exam-takers from the 1982 Attorney-General, and the key principle of qualified privilege.

One impact of the Leveson Inquiry has been the gradual closing of doors to the media by police forces, a process which has been all the more frustrating in an era of social media.

I can see this isn’t going to help, and my former colleague Tom Rawstorne makes a good point.

 

I still have mixed feelings about the BBC’s actions.

I welcome its championing of the cause of media freedom, and to see an organisation often accused of being over-cautious and bound up in regulation and compliance paranoia with its head above the parapet in this way is perhaps refreshing.

But I can’t rid myself of the suspicion that had the Beeb not been quite so bull-at-a-gate, we may not find ourselves in this situation.

To be fair to the BBC, the judge was clear that any coverage which identified Sir Cliff would have been a breach of privacy.

But there’s no doubt that helicopter, that live and intrusive footage, that short timeframe for a comment, and particularly that appallingly tactless Scoop of the Year submission added dangerously unnecessary fuel to the fire.

There are those such as former BBC executive Roger Mosey and former BBC chairman Lord Patten who argue the BBC should resist any temptation to appeal.

I disagree.

As I said before, part of me thinks the BBC has got us into this mess. And so it should do all it can to get us out.

These are incredibly difficult issues to wrestle with, and I’m very conscious of that saying that ‘hard cases make bad law.’

I’d very much like a second judicial opinion on this.

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Could Gareth Southgate teach crisis-hit councils a thing or two about media relations?

If people are doing an impossible job, is it possible to hold them to account?

I’ve always seen the regional media’s role as that of a critical friend to their community’s leaders.

As I’ve said before, although journalists and politicians may feel they can get along without each other very well, the people they serve need them both.

Getting the balance between criticism and friendship right is hugely difficult.

But not quite as difficult as trying to square the circles involved in running local government services at a time of unprecedented financial challenge.

One of the many tragedies of Brexit is its destructive dominance of the bandwidth of the national media – and of Westminster and Whitehall.

Time, effort and expertise are being wasted on a deliberate, conscious act of national self-harm at a time when the fabric of our society is already under attack from biological and demographic forces which can only be tackled with stability and unity.

The Government has pledged to apply a giant sticking plaster to the NHS without any convincing commitment to solving the increasingly huge elephant in the emergency room that is the UK’s social care crisis.

Any local authority that runs adult social care services is in trouble.

A Guardian journalist who has done more than most to talk to real people in real places to inform his writing, John Harris argues that the crisis of diminishing Whitehall support for local government is now destroying communities. And he’s right.

He says the destruction of council services which are a lifeline for the most vulnerable people in society has been underreported. And if he’s talking about the national media – consumed by refracting their own light on Brexit – he might also be right.

But the links in John’s report point to work across the regional media which is attempting to shine bright lights into these dark areas, day in, day out.

They find themselves trying to hold to account people who are losing control, people doing an unenviable job, with hands tied by a government that is the latest to fail to find an honest and constructive answer to the challenge of an ageing population.

Honest and constructive.

There was undoubtedly a lack of honesty and constructive thinking when Theresa May launched plans to shake up social care funding just over a year ago, with a much-needed debate reduced to election name-calling which set back progress both on funding – and on the alleged unfairness of the current system.

It’s the sort of issue that to my mind was made for the emerging – and very welcome – process of constructive journalism.

It’s a principle championed by Mark Rice-Oxley, special projects editor at The Guardian, who spoke inspiringly at this week’s Newsrewired conference.

But there can also be a perceived lack of honesty at a local level, too, that may dissuade journalists from taking that constructive approach.

I’ve always thought it smacks of whining desperation when organisations such as the News Media Association protest at BBC expansion, or the withdrawal of public notice advertising – or the so-called Town Hall Pravdas.

And I don’t think the sacking of one of the BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporters in Yorkshire amounts to sinister censorship – as far as I can see, his previous axe-grinding should have ruled him out of the running for the job. Even if he was, as has been suggested, the only person to apply.

But I do understand the frustration of journalists attempting to hold elected power to account – never mind find empathy for the need to save money – when councils gloss over problems in their own news communications.

In a city I know well, there is anger among local journalists at the local council’s attempts to put a brave face on overrunning flood defence works.

The Exeter Express and Echo and the Devon Live website recently highlighted the annoyance of traders at the city’s landmark quay over the work by the Environment Agency which has missed its deadline by around 18 months.

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Cue the next edition of Exeter Citizen, the city council’s free newspaper for local council taxpayers.

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Local reporters have claimed the picture of busy activity may well be up to five years old.

I don’t know. But I do know that it all builds suspicion and resentment – the polar opposites of that honesty and constructive thinking.

A report out today highlights the increasing importance of social media strategies in local government communications. Councils need to have their own voice – and some, like Doncaster Council – are outstanding at it.

 

But that Local Government Association report also recognises the need for openness and transparency.

The best public organisations know that letting the light in, supporting the disinfectant of scrutiny, can only improve performance.

There’s a clue in that inspired Doncaster Council tweet.

We’re all disappointed this morning that our dreams of seeing England in a World Cup final have been dashed.

We can see some problems that need to be solved.

But we can also see a group of honest folk working hard to solve them – and to connect with a real world of worry, confusion and occasional hope.

That doesn’t happen by accident.

It’s the result of honesty, openness and constructive thinking on the part of both reporter and reported.

There are councils which could take a leaf out of Sir Gareth of Waistcoat’s pitchside notebook.

It’s our duty to speak up when tragedy strikes our worldwide journalism family

It’s 3,555 miles from here to Annapolis in Maryland.

I was barely aware of its existence before last week, and I’d certainly never heard of the Capital-Gazette newspaper.

And yet on Friday morning, I ate my breakfast through tears.

Tears for five members of the world journalism family (yes, we do count our commercial colleagues as family members) gunned down as they worked in their office.

And tears for their workmates who, while mourning their loss and coping with their own post-traumatic stress, moved to a nearby garage and carried on putting out the paper.

When you spend your day writing about new shop openings or product recalls, journalism may not feel like a dangerous profession.

The fact that – across the world – 110 journalists have been killed in the last 18 months is one that can perhaps be easily dismissed.

And yet, there won’t be a single journalist in this country who hasn’t been subjected to online abuse of one kind or another.

Some of it might be laughable, like this minor abuse I received recently.

That came after I defended Leeds Live reporter Stephanie Finnegan over her coverage of Tommy Robinson’s brush with the contempt of court laws – coverage which led to horrific trolling online which was absolutely no laughing matter.

Talking of contempt of court, because it’s not a British case, I can say that the man arrested for the Maryland atrocity seemed to have targeted the Capital-Gazette because of its coverage of a court case he was involved in.

That sort of resentment is the kind that anyone who has sat on the press bench of a court will have experienced.

I can still remember plotting my escape through a window when a family group descended on our office to complain about our treatment of one of their number.

The relative free-for-all of the comments sections on most news websites and the still underpoliced world of social media has enabled 24/7, arms-length, largely anonymous, abuse of journalists to flourish.

If you’re a crime reporter, like my Twitter friend Carl Eve, it’s a nasty fact of life.

In fact, we’re not alone in having to put up with such personal abuse. A few minutes on Trip Advisor would be all that’s needed to find examples of allegedly truculent reception staff or clueless waiters highlighted for all the world to see.

But such references aren’t usually accompanied by threats.

And – important though those hospitality roles are, no one putting in a shift at their local hotel or bar would claim to be defending key bulwarks of democracy.

When you factor in the wider political dimension – whether it be Donald Trump calling reporters the enemy of the people or the expansion of the power of dictators such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Viktor Orban – it’s easier to argue that there is a sinister, insidious, continuum of abuse. One that starts with online taunts and ends in newsroom bloodbaths.

As social media firms, lawmakers and law enforcers struggle to keep up – nationally and internationally – what can we do?

There’s no doubt that managers need to be more proactive in supporting their staff.

When I was a news editor, I used to regularly climb on to my high horse in defence of our reporters.

I was prepared to let accusations of lazy journalism go most of the time. But there was an occasion when that last word became journalists. That was a red line, and I forced an apology after pointing out that I had just worked a 55-hour week, including, along with all my staff, a 13-hour day.

But we can’t leave it all to whatever’s left of management. We all need to put aside parochialism and complacency to take a greater interest in the work of organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

It’s a point well made by the great Eddie Mair – one of the country’s most effective interviewers – as he announced his move from the BBC yesterday.

And there are more ideas here on standing shoulder to shoulder with our US friends, and on improving coverage of tragedy.

But I also commend to you this lovely idea from a reporter at another American newspaper.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems more relevant and certainly more poignant now than ever.

So let’s all find time today – on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments section – to literally put in a good word for a colleague.

And by colleague, I mean any journalist, anywhere, trying to do the best job they can.

So is it the Biased Broadcasting Corporation?

When I was a news editor, I was accused of being a Tory, a Labour supporter, a Lib Dem, and a Green.

And I was happy with that, particularly around election time.

My rule of thumb has always been that if everyone thinks you’re biased, you’re probably doing a reasonable job.

Of course it’s impossible for journalists to be 100 per cent impartial. Each of us is shaped by experiences, upbringing, and prejudices – and each of us is looking for an engaging or unusual angle.

As Peter Stewart and Ray Alexander say in their book Broadcast Journalism:

“Complete impartiality is like perfection; an ideal for which many will strive but none will wholly attain.”

But that shouldn’t stop us trying. Especially if we’re the BBC, one of this country’s most trusted institutions, and bound by Ofcom and its own guidelines to have impartiality written as the lettering in its own very British stick of rock.

Each new decade has brought fresh assaults on the Beeb and its claims of complete political neutrality – from the Falklands to weapons of mass destruction and from the Middle East to Ulster.

Right now the clamour has reached a new peak. And this time, it’s not traditional Tories bemoaning the long-haired liberalism of the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation. Nor is it Canary Corbynistas sweeping the BBC into their mainstream media dustbin.

This is the centre-left – from media commentators to frontline campaigners, and all of them people for whom I have a reasonable amount of time. They accuse the corporation of institutional prejudice against a body of thought which once unassailably dominated political thinking: the case for Britain remaining in the EU.

The accusation is consistent: that the BBC is failing to hold the Government and Brexiteers to account on the biggest political issue for at least a generation, that it is indulging ministers’ cake-and-eat-it fantasies and that it is giving disproportionate air time to unelected rent-a-gobs such as Nigel Farage.

There has been little in the way of high profile response from BBC leaders, other than an interview with UK news editor Richard Burgess.

One former senior manager, Richard Sambrook, now head of the Cardiff University School of Journalism, has waded in, saying it is indefensible for individual editors to be targeted.

Newspaper columnist Gary Bainbridge also made some very telling points about the BBC’s alleged lack of interest in pro-Remain protests.

And there was this persuasive remark by educationalist Sam Freedman.

Another newspaper writer, Chris Deerin, has written a passionate defence of the BBC’s impartiality, arguing that its critics are playing into the hands of those who would wish to muzzle its journalism.

Appropriately enough, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The result of the EU referendum two years ago was a massive wake-up call for the BBC, as it was for many elements of British journalism. I can still remember a young reporter posting a shocked – but in its own way, frightening – comment on Facebook on June 24, 2016: ‘I don’t know a single person who voted Leave.’

I know there has been huge soul-searching – over the idea that mainstream journalism was complacently out of touch with its audience, but also over a very different worry: that false balance allowed lies on buses to hold sway.

It is perhaps illuminating to think that it took a German journalist to ask Theresa May the most pertinent question about Brexit: Is it worth it? Needless to say she didn’t answer it.

So, I think individual reporters and producers may at times be conflicted in their thinking. How do they ask the questions that the audience wants answering when that audience is itself so divided, so confused?

But it’s a big leap from that to the concept of an organisation of 21,000 people being institutionally and consciously biased.

There’s a reason the BBC is so cherished.

It does a range of things that virtually no other broadcaster in the world is capable of doing. And it mostly does them very well, with a dedication to the pursuit of truth largely unmatched on these shores.

By all means challenge individual programme-making decisions to keep it on its toes.

But let’s not waste time – ours or the BBC’s – on conspiracy theories. 

 

 

Politicians and the press: why we need to be each others’ critical friends

I used to speak to my paper’s local MP two or three times a week.

At one point, he said something which I found both reassuring and terrifying in equal measure.

“You know what I think about this, Paul. I’m happy for you to make up a quote and attribute it to me.”

The relationship between regional journalists and the politicians that serve their area is a delicate and complicated one.

Both are theoretically working for the common good, with a mission to celebrate and champion their communities.

Like all senior figures in the public sector, MPs will say something like: “We just expect you to be fair. If I’ve/we’ve got something wrong, we know you’ll hold us to account for it.”

Like all senior figures in the public sector, they don’t always mean it.

And God knows leading a public sector organisation today is nightmarishly challenging – and getting worse by the day. It’s not a barrel of laughs being an MP, either: your life is no longer your own, the hours are relentless, and your waistline and heart must feel under continuous attack.

The reason I could square the role of quote-writer to the political party veteran with my conscience was that I remembered far livelier conversations – often around election time, and occasionally involving stroppy silences that lasted several weeks.

I also recall being ambushed by that politician and a neighbouring MP from a different party on live TV. Both accused my paper of being biased. The fact that the allegations of bias directly contradicted each other gave me great pleasure. As always, if everyone thinks you’ve got it in for them you’re probably doing a pretty good job.

But despite that TV encounter, and despite those periodic spats, our relationship never descended into downright abuse.

Our paper was never described as ‘journalism with crayons’ or ‘shoddy’ – terms used by Teeside MP Emma Lewell-Buck and her husband Simon Buck in attacks on the Shields Gazette over its coverage of a boundary shake-up.

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I wonder how some of our past political disagreements would have played out on Twitter.

I was intrigued to see one of my home city of Plymouth’s MPs criticising the Herald over its coverage of both defence cuts and the cleanliness of the local hospital.

When I first read Johnny Mercer’s comments, I was tempted to put him in the same category as the Lewell-Bucks.

But I know he’s an interesting, intelligent, thoughtful character. And maybe there is slightly more nuance to his criticism. He’s certainly not critical of all journalism.

Having said that, I was glad to see reporters, former reporters and journalists on other Trinity Mirror titles defending the Herald’s corner.

Herald crime reporter Carl Eve wasn’t taking any nonsense about political bias in the regional media. Nor was he prepared to accept that the Herald has a glass half-empty approach to local life.

At least Mr Mercer is engaging in the debate.

That’s more that can be said for Sheffield MP Jared O’Hara who has vanished without trace after taking a period of sick leave in the face of criticism of some comments he made in the past.

There’s been some good coverage by the Yorkshire Post on all this, including some nice doorstepping of his office, which seems to have triggered his sudden decision to return to work.

As one of the commentators in a Twitter thread on the Mercer vs Herald debate acknowledges, MPs and the media should be each others’ watchdogs.

I like to think both are critical friends, honestly holding the other to account in good faith, and in pursuit of similar goals.

I made it a principle never to be friends with a politician on Facebook. But I don’t subscribe to the view that the only noble position for a journalist to hold is one of constant and suspicious attrition.

The best journalists and politicians realise that, even if they don’t always feel they need each other, their communities require both.

Why I’m happy my licence fee is being spent on extra newspaper reporters

There are times when the jobs pages of the regional journalism website Hold the Front Page can be a bit of a desert.

Not this week.

Across the country there are well over 100 jobs on offer – a veritable Christmas feast of vacancies unprecedented in recent years.

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It would be lovely to report that the shareholders of Trinity Mirror and Johnson Press, along with the American owners of Newsquest, had had a blinding flash of inspiration and decided to reverse years of cuts in Britain’s regional journalism firepower.

But that’s not what’s led to this jobs bonanza. This Christmas present has come from the BBC: in other words, from you and I.

The idea of the BBC spending £8 million of licence-payers’ money on the salaries of reporters who will work for commercial media companies has been controversial.

Why should the BBC prop up private sector firms that have presided over the closure of titles and offices, and the removal of rafts of editors, subs and even reporters?

It’s a reasonable question to ask. But we are where we are, and it is what it is, as all our mothers used to say.

We have a shareholder or venture capital model which is on the ropes, we have audiences whose attachments to their communities can be fragile, and we have a media landscape where there is more competition for people’s time than ever before.

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And, importantly, the 150 reporters based in newsrooms from Teesside to Truro will not just be serving those companies’ titles and websites with stories from councils, courts and the NHS, but will also be providing content for the Beeb – and for other local news websites including some hyperlocals.

And never has the work of holding power to account been more necessary.

This week has brought a reminder of the tragedy that shames this whole nation, but which poses particularly awkward questions for regional journalism.

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This happened on our watch, on journalism’s watch.

The warning signs were there: in blogs that weren’t read, detailed council documents that weren’t analysed, and people who weren’t listened to.

That lack of coverage, of challenge, of curiosity, of contacts, of connections, played its part in the deaths of 71 people in an incident that should have no place in the year 2017.

But it’s a tricky business when newsroom web targets demand that each story gets at least 1,000 pairs of eyes – sometimes higher. Would some story about the variety of cladding used on a high rise tower have cleared that hurdle, and won an online audience?

There are times when that audience can appear to be our enemy rather than our ally. When – as my friends in Gloucestershire have seen – attempts to explain and bring to life a planning blueprint that will affect every family in the county seem to fall on blind eyes and deaf ears online.

And yet, there are beacons of hope, where journalists seem to have found that powerful sweet spot where public service journalism that makes a difference overlaps with storytelling that hits web targets.

I think of my friends at the Bristol Post, where great stories about individuals caught up in the nightmare of homelessness, and the recent gut-wrenching tragedy of the suicide of a girl from the city have captured hearts, minds and eyeballs.

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As the editor of one of its sister websites, Devon Live boss Patrick Phelvin so rightly said: “If it comes from the heart and is interesting then generally there’s an audience for it.”

I also look admiringly at the work of Sam Petherick at my old paper, The Bath Chronicle, who was shortlisted for a national award for his stories about overpaid vice-chancellor Professor Glynis Breakwell.

And once again I pay homage to one of the greatest journalists working in the regional media today, Manchester Evening News social affairs editor Jennifer Williams, whose coverage of issues from homelessness to hospitals and drugs to development always strengthens my belief that journalism can be a massive force for good in society.

 

All of these journalistic heroes are pursuing new stories, cooking up new dishes rather than reheating tired soufflés. As blogger Adam Tinworth so rightly said recently, in many ways there is too much journalism.

He wasn’t, we should stress, talking about truly local journalism: the coverage, challenge and storytelling that comes from working a patch or a specialism. That’s a skill that I try to put at the heart of everything that I teach, and I was hugely encouraged to hear an editor friend say she was bringing back patches at her papers the other day.

Of all those Cs I listed above, it is perhaps curiosity that is the most important. We spent an afternoon this week interviewing prospective students for our course and it was a joy to hear one say: ‘I want to know why things happen.’

As Guardian editor Kath Viner recently said, journalists shouldn’t just be asking the questions that everyone is asking – they should also pose the ones that no one else is voicing. That’s the key.

So I’m hugely cheered by the BBC investment, as well as by other initiatives where organisations making money out of other people’s journalism are beginning to give something back.

There are great things going on at Google, with its Newslabs work, and its recent funding of a string of regional journalism projects, including one to make court coverage more useful.

Initiatives from PA’s robot data journalism trials to the inspiring Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Local Bureau work  should also give us hope.

That surfeit of journalism that Adam was talking about isn’t at grassroots level.

And so what we need to ensure is that the BBC investment doubles down on the regional coverage of what goes on in the corridors of power around the nation.

These 150 foot soldiers in the battle to hold power to account need to complement what’s already happening, not allow existing political reporters to be shunted into other work.

We need more eyes, ears and noses to be stuck into unwanted places.

There’s a mantra I’ve been sharing in teaching sessions, at open days, in TV interviews, at interview days, and on outreach visits. I’ve undoubtedly said it here before, too.

But it can’t be repeated enough times.

If we get journalism right, we stop Grenfell Towers from happening in the future.

Get it wrong, and that sort of tragedy happens time and time again.

Main picture: Christine Matthews

Why we can’t go on together with suspicious minds

I saw a sight which took my breath away this week.

The view from the top of Cheltenham’s tallest building is nothing short of amazing.

It was well worth the effort.

But it wasn’t just negotiating the lifts and stairs that got me to the top, and to a really satisfying piece for GloucestershireLive.

I had to overcome a few suspicious minds along the way, too.

The manager of the building said she had always been wary of journalists. And she was keen for one of her colleagues to sit in on all my interviews with the building’s tenants.

I found myself explaining my motivation several times over.

I simply wanted to write a through-the-keyhole, behind-the-scenes feature on a landmark that everyone in Cheltenham knows from the outside, but few have ever seen from the inside.

It’s not quite GCHQ, but the Eagle Tower is intriguing.

I wasn’t interested in minor gripes over leases, and I wasn’t there to do a hatchet job.

And, by the end of my two visits spread over three hours, everyone had relaxed, and I was an old friend.

I didn’t take the initial suspicion personally.

But there were clear signs that the image of journalism is too often one of glasses being half-empty rather than half-full, and of a profession looking for trouble that isn’t to be trusted.

And here’s the thing. The less people feel the benefit of journalism, the more that perception will grow.

There is a real risk of a disconnect between journalists and the people they write about. We fear the unknown, and journalists have become the unknown.

Somehow we need to be talking directly to more of our community.

There are some beautiful and telling thoughts in this analysis by American journalist Ross Barkan on the future of the regional media.

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We have the quantity of communication, with more ways of getting in touch with audiences than ever before, and online readership numbers that theoretically dwarf any print record highs. But do we have the quality?

If people see, speak to, and know their local reporters, they’re going to be more ready to trust and value their work.

When I was a news editor, I used to spend most Thursday mornings with a reporter in a café or pub somewhere in Bath. Our ‘surgeries’ weren’t just a means to get stories, they were also a great way of meeting readers, and persuading them that journalists didn’t come with horns on their heads and cloven hooves.

The dangers of that gulf between journalists and their communities are all around us.

They’re writ large in the horror of Grenfell Tower, where newsroom cuts meant journalists were looking the other way as residents issued stark, prescient warnings over fire safety.

They’re there in the gut-wrenching bombshell closure of the Oldham Evening Chronicle: an 163-year-old daily paper that’s there one minute and gone the next.

And they’re there at the bus stops of my home city of Plymouth. It’s relatively trivial stuff in the great scheme of things, but my mum and dad are losing a bus service they rely heavily on.

They knew the axe was falling, but they’ve had to spread that news to many of their friends and fellow bus customers.

They knew because my mum gets the Plymouth Herald virtually every day. But she’s in a minority. Too many of that service’s passengers get on with their lives in blissful ignorance of community life, even though they may have called Plymouth home for decades.

We need a strong local media both to expose the kind of strategic complacency, cynicism and cackhandedness that lay behind Grenfell Tower, as well as to highlight minor but significant attacks on our quality of life such as bus cuts.

Never is the regional media’s role in binding communities together more important than in times of citywide crisis.

That might be the Manchester Evening News rising brilliantly to the challenge of covering terrorism tragedy on its doorstep. Or it might be the inspirational work of the Houston Chronicle over the biblical floods in Texas. There’s a nice line in this Washington Post piece on such coverage, too.

Think about finding a way to support local journalism. You never know when you might need it yourself.

If we’re not careful, more towns and cities will follow the depressing example of Oldham.

We must fight to stop newspapers and their websites joining post offices and churches as community assets that everyone wants to stay open but few will actually tangibly support.

There is no magic bullet here. We are in very difficult demographic, financial and cultural territory. And former South Wales Argus editor Kevin Ward isn’t wrong when he questions the default setting of cuts and more cuts adopted by the boards of directors of some regional media firms.

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But I’m not giving up.

There is hope to be found, with the example of a site in Denver in the USA one such beacon.

And the one thing I know is that the most successful and sustainable journalism is the journalism that is closest to its people.

The kind where journalists are so much more than faceless bylines, disembodied phone voices, and robotic Facebook posts.

Face to face, eyeball to eyeball – as well as on every social media platform – we have to keep on keeping on. With charm, with humour, with determination, with sensitivity, and above all, with a shared sense of community and humanity.

When it comes to our audiences, we need to move from Suspicious Minds to Always On My Mind.

And It’s Now Or Never.