Suppose you ran a local newspaper, and you were looking for a cogent, witty piece of correspondence to head your letters page with. There’s a nice pen as a prize from Webster’s Pen Shop, so you’d better make it something which really hits the spot. Of all the ones to choose, how about… this?
Yes, that’ll be the one that calls gays “perverted”. That’s worth a prize, isn’t it? I wonder what Webster’s Pen Shop thinks about its products being used to reward such an unpleasant little rant?
It’s someone else’s opinion, but it’s the News Shopper’s choice to reward that opinion with a prize.
Unfortunately, it’s all a game for the News Shopper – they’re clearly hoping people will be so outraged they’ll flock to its website to complain. But alienating a tenth of its readership, and many more besides, is just a childish way of doing it. But when your paper can’t be bothered to do boring things like attend council meetings, whipping up false controversy is a cheap substitute for actually bothering to gather news. This isn’t responsible local journalism, it’s the equivalent of a child taking a dump in the kitchen to get attention.
The Shopper recently had a vacancy for a web editor. As a critic of the paper – but someone with a decade’s experience in online journalism – I thought about going for it because I think its website strategy is all wrong – desperate attempts at interactivity like boring rants that nobody responds to, blog entries from complete loons (and don’t start slagging off places in your circulation area), a blind eye turned to offensive comments placed at the foot of news stories, and a web forum which hardly anybody contributes to. For a paper with a circulation area containing about a million people, that’s a failure.
Any sensible newspaper would sweep this crap away and start again – there’s a whole world of possibilities for local newspapers to interact with their readers, to create a trusted guide to a local community. I even enjoyed putting a few ideas together for it, but in the end decided against applying.
Because the big cross against it was that the News Shopper’s attention-seeking brand of pretend journalism seemed set in stone, and it would be hard to find room to change things. Endorsing an anti-gay rant in its letters pages proves that for me. You might expect something like this in a distant backwoods newspaper with a four-figure circulation, but in a paper distributed to two inner-city London boroughs, which together have the same population as Liverpool, it’s downright stupidity.
Sadly, if it’s going to endorse crap like this, the best place for the News Shopper is in your recycling bin. Alongside Greenwich Time. They deserve each other. And people wonder why local papers are dying?