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Published on February 7th, 2014 | by voxx

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The Decline of the Local Paper

For the last 48 hours I haven’t left my one bedroom flat, surviving solely on flat Pepsi and the sad remnants of a stir fry I made three days ago.

I’ve not been using this downtime unproductively; in fact I even scheduled it into my week. I needed it to wrap my head round a few issues that have been bothering me recently.

I’m in the final year of a print journalism degree and what I want to get to the bottom of is this: Why am I doing a degree in an industry that has about as much life left in it as Phillip Seymour Hoffman immediately after injecting all that sweet Chinese opiate directly into his circuits?

The answer, however, is proving as elusive as the dragon Hoffman was chasing.

I have paid upwards of £10,000 for the privilege of studying at this relatively mediocre university. I’m not too bothered about the cost and I have no intention of getting into the politics behind tuition fees, but what does get to me is the quality of the academic input us fledgling journalists get in return. In a time when public trust in the media is at an all-time low as a result of things like the Leveson inquiry, is it really prudent to spend a full one-hour lecture on pubic hair trends in the pantheon of the celebrity?

But it’s not even my lacklustre course content that sends me into a major cosmic funk; I’m just concerned about how much life local newspapers have left in them.

On my daily walk to university I pass three employees of the local newspaper, their sole purpose (in life, it would seem, since they pull ten hour shifts every day of the week) is to hand out said paper for free. Even the creepy bearded bloke with plastic bags for shoes that hangs around Argos gets more income than that from coercing folks into buying the Big Issue.

This can mean one of two things:

1. My particular local paper is so poorly written that it’s worth less than the paper it’s printed on.
2. Print journalism is an industry that has become another slave to the deity that is profit and 99% of revenue is generated from in-paper advertising.

Either way it hardly paints a hopeful picture of the future. People just don’t seem to care about local news anymore, which suits me fine since I don’t really care about writing it either.

So why keep flogging a dead horse? It seems to me that news — and local news specifically — is a phenomenon maintained by older generations. I can’t think of a single person my age who buys their local paper, so surely that means there’s a maximum of four or five decades left in the poor old girl.

I don’t think they’ll go down with much of a fight either, in fact I predict quite the opposite: Just to milk this battered and bruised news horse (yes – for the sake of this analogy we are milking a horse) the editors will have opted to fill the local paper solely with ads. They’ll sit on small mountains of cash in the only room of their offices they haven’t rented out to interpretative dance classes, hollering and hissing at the last, withered reporter they haven’t sold into a sex trafficking ring. Said reporter will have to work to 24/7 to churn out constant online content, praying to Gaia that the UV glow of his monitor will compensate for his burgeoning Vitamin D deficiency. I imagine him or her looking like a ‘pre-cog’ from Minority Report, or whatever those bloody idiots are called.

And just like that, when there are no more adverts to be advertised and the aforementioned editors have died of bed sores/congenital heart failure and the local reporter has typed his last ‘Police appeal for witnesses in local assault’ article, local news will pass on into the Great Beyond. Not in a blaze of spectacular light like a supernova, but rather like an aged but revered Hollywood actor — alone in a dimly lit room — after that one final, dissatisfying fix.

- Oliver Wain

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