The following is a response to BU question by retired journalist Hal Austin formerly of the UK Financial Times –Do you have a view on the role a local newspaper should play as far as community journalism s concerned? Is local media filling that role? Barbados Underground was motivated to ask the question because for the most part local media houses are news takers and lack the strategic management to Centres of Excellence in the community they serve – Barbados Underground
David, There is a clear role for local newspapers, to inform local readers, and articulate their concerns and to publish stories that bind the community together.
This may range from reports of the local school fete to how the member of parliament is doing, to fires, crimes and crises at the local hospital. The local paper is the eyes, ears and mouth of the community. In bigger societies, they are not, and cannot pretend to be, national newspapers.
If by your question you imply local newspapers in Barbados, I say no. Even though I hate criticising hard-working journalists, I dismiss the Advocate as a poor imitation of what it was years ago; the Nation I believe can be vastly improved, plus it has a political agenda, or at least reads like it (what we call news bias); and it does not fully understand the craft of producing news.
One online publication, which is meant to be a newspaper, leaves the same story on the home page for weeks. They seem not to understand the trade they are in – that they are in NEWS reporting. There is nothing new about a stale old story.
Then of course you sometimes get three or four stories on the same subject illustrated with the same picture. That shows lack of creative thinking. Then again, they all fall in to a consensual interpretation of events, because they all share the same or similar backgrounds. Just look at how often they report nonsense from Donville Inniss or Owen Arthur. In Britain, for example, the Daily Mail is a different beast to the Guardian.
Then local newspaper editors must learn to pay their contributors; you get what you pay for. If you want citizen journalists, you cannot complain if you get citizen journalism.
Finally, in local terms, there is a lack of training and it shows, from ‘balance’ when writing stories to digging out stories that fit the old doctrine: if a dog bites a man, it is not a story; but if a man bites a dog, it is a story.