To the Newmarket Public Library for their latest IdeaMarket offering:  

“Smartphones, You Tube, Infamy: Video Activism and Social Change”.

Soon after kick-off I realize the sweep of tonight’s topic is way, way too wide with nothing staying in focus for more than a few minutes before discussion is moved on.  We hear about cyber bullying and the damage it can do to a person’s self esteem. Now I am watching a promotional video for a women’s refuge. Next up is a short movie clip from a young woman expressing her feelings through the medium of a silent video. It's a jumble that seems very Art House-ish to me.

There is a panel of six (too many) including Tracy Kibble, the Editor of the Era, Newmarket’s local newspaper which is dumped unsolicited on driveways week in, week out.

She tells us that much of what is out there on the internet cannot be trusted. That’s why local newspapers are needed. They care about the truth and double check the facts. As I am listening to this, I am smiling to myself.

Now she is asked about citizen journalism, blogging and its impact on the mainstream press. She seems curiously unconcerned.

Nwkt Town Hall Watch

She mentions by name, Newmarket Town Hall Watch, brushing them aside disdainfully. They hide behind their anonymity and don’t bother to check their sources, peddling half truths and distortions as fact. (That was the gist of it.)

Now Tracy is talking about how the Era is coping in an age where news travels fast. A tweet can be sent in seconds. She concedes they are never (or rarely) going to be first with breaking news.

Indeed, I learn the Era no longer routinely publishes photographs of accidents and the like. One way or another, these go on the web instantaneously. By the time they appear in the print version they would be old news.

We are told the on-line site chalks up an impressive 500,000 page views per month. I am astonished. Clearly, there is life in the old dog yet, albeit in the digital version.

A Huge Cylindrical Roll of Bumf

In the old days, when people bought the Era, there had to be a certain percentage of news in the content. (I was told it was about 40% but this may be way off the mark.) But now the paper is a freebie there is no minimum requirement for news and editorial. What little there is is submerged under a huge mass of advertising bumf.

As I am listening to Tracy I am wondering how many people would take the Era if they had to pay good money for it. And will it exist in its current form in, say, ten years?

Nowadays, people get their news from a huge variety of sources and newspaper editors, like Tracy Kibble, are no longer the gatekeepers they once were, deciding what should be reported and when. That paradigm died years ago.

Nevertheless, I want local newspapers to survive. They could still fulfill an important function.

But they’ve got to offer more than we are getting now; which is a very thin gruel of local news and comment.

They need to become relevant again.

Here's an idea. The Era should start running stories on local issues that influential people would prefer to see going unreported.

I have a list.

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