At the end of next week, I’ll be leaving Leys News, the community newspaper I’ve been editing for the past two years. I’ve learnt a lot in that time, but the biggest epiphany was this: community journalism is a sector in its own right.
My background is in mainstream journalism, and before I started working at Leys News I assumed that community journalism worked along roughly the same lines. Major culture shock followed, including the discovery that I was the first ever editor of the paper to have any journalistic qualifications. When I realised this, I felt that my main task was to use my professional training to set standards and improve the quality of the newspaper.
Or, to put it more bluntly: I went into community journalism believing that my years of experience in the mainstream press gave me a mandate to show others how it should be done. I held training sessions, introduced a house style, began writing mini-guides to different aspects of journalism.
I do think my actions have borne fruit, in the shape of a more professional-looking, internally consistent newspaper. However, what I didn't appreciate when I embarked on this course of action is that community journalism has an ethos of its own and a lot of valuable qualities that are completely missing from the mainstream media.
In my farewell editorial for Leys News, I explain why I now think community journalism is so important: “[It] is a sector in its own right, one filled with potential. If people are losing faith in mainstream media, I believe the answer is to increase people’s sense of ownership over the media they consume. Keeping things at a micro-local level is a way of ensuring that a newspaper remains accountable to the community it serves.”
People working in the regional and national press could learn a lot from how community newspapers work.