For a quite number of years now, I have been buying my local “rag” – The Coventry Telegraph – merely to find out what’s happening – in the theatre, the cinema and so on – in and around the area in which I live. To me it’s a What’s On? nothing more or nothing less.
There was a time when – as The Coventry Evening Telegraph – it had a set of columns and columnist worth paying some attention to. No any more. The time when a reader could turn to its pages and find half-way intelligent commentary on what is happening on the political scene, in the theater in our art galleries, with music or indeed anywhere is long gone.
Would I now care if the paper were to close tomorrow? The answer is: not really.
As George Monbiot shows in his column for today’s edition The Guardian, Coventry is not the only city to have a newspaper that has become so irrelevant that it has no longer got the right to survival.
They are the pillars of the community, champions of the underdog, the scourge of corruption, defenders of free speech. Their demise could deal a mortal blow to democracy. Any guesses yet? How many of you thought of local newspapers?
But this is the universal view of the national media: local papers, half of which, on current trends, are in danger of going down in the next five years(1), are all that stand between us and creeping dictatorship. Like my colleagues, I mourn their death; unlike them I believe it happened decades ago. For many years the local press has been one of Britain’s most potent threats to democracy, championing the overdog, misrepresenting democratic choices, defending business, the police and local elites from those who seek to challenge them. Media commentators lament the death of what might have been. It bears no relationship to what is.