Newspapers - reports of their death are exaggerated

Keith Harrison, editor of the Wolverhampton-based Express & Star, heralds Local Newspaper Week, and says newspapers will be around for years to come – but only if they maintain their standards

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NEWSPAPERS are dead . . . aren’t they? It’s all about the internet these days, isn’t it?

Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Thischat, Thatchat – the future is upon us, so who needs the ‘dead tree press’? What is it still here for?

You can’t even wrap chips up in it any more – health and safety is more than anyone’s job’s worth, obviously.

Maybe we could put together a papier mache coffin and just bury the news once and for all. Lots of people would like that. Those appearing in court, for a start; the muggers, the burglars, the kerb-crawlers, the dangerous drivers, the brawlers, the fare-dodgers.

No newspapers means hardly anyone would know who’s been caught doing what.

One or two councils would probably breathe a sigh of relief, too.

Some would love information to be handed out solely through official (ie controlled) channels, ironically, such as council-produced newspapers.

We have seen open contempt at times for questions posed using the Freedom of Information Act. Yet without it, those in authority would sometimes seek to keep things from you – the people who pay their wages. You have a right to know.

They have a duty to tell you.

It is our responsibility to make sure that happens and that unshakeable principle applies to all public bodies, both on our patch and beyond. From Stafford hospital to New Cross whistleblowers, we continually scrutinise the NHS bosses there to care for us.

From the unsolved murder of Kevin Nunes to the suspension of deputy crime boss Yvonne Mosquito, we question those there to keep us safe. From job cuts and dubious land deals to the all-important question of who empties our bins, we keep on top of our local councils.

True, the Express & Star doesn’t have exclusive rights on asking awkward questions, but it’s one thing getting answers from those in authority – and another letting people know what those answers are.

In that sense, we provide a platform for people to have their say.

Take one of our pages this week as an example. Campaigners are battling against a huge freight depot in Essington. They’re doing a great job of putting their case across, but far more people will read their argument in print than came across them at the side of the road over the weekend.

Giving ordinary folk a louder voice is a big part of what we do and few independent institutions battle so hard for this region than this newspaper. Working with local partners, we’ve helped more than 1,000 young people find apprenticeships through the highly successful Ladder campaign.

We’re helping to hand out more than £4m to local companies to invest in the future with the Green Shoots fund. And we’ve helped dozens of groups get a share of a generous HomeServe fund via the Cash for your Community initiative.

In years to come, almost a million old pictures in our photo library will be made available for free after a mammoth digital archiving operation is completed.

Why am I telling you all this?

Well, this week is Local Newspaper Week and for all this positivity, these are admittedly challenging times for the industry. Reader habits and lifestyles are changing and people are busier than ever before. Time is an increasingly precious commodity and, despite my inky fingers, we are well aware that modern readers want – and need – to be served in many different ways.

The Express & Star is investing in its digital news operations, bringing you stories and information within seconds of news breaking.

Alongside their shorthand notepad and pen, our reporters carry smartphones to record videos, take pictures and record interviews that a few years ago would have taken a three-man crew.

Newspapers aren’t dead.

Far from it.  They are on the cusp of a new chapter of prosperity, combining traditional strengths with technological advances.

But we will only thrive if we maintain the standards we have set for hundreds of years, embrace the future and see an ever-changing media landscape as an opportunity, not a threat.

In short, we’re alive and kicking.

Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.

Thanks for reading.