Jeremy Clifford: A strong local Press can change lives for the good

“NEWS is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising”.

These words from Lord Harmsworth form the benchmark of good journalism and define to some extent the role of the Press.

The term most commonly refers to the news media, and especially print journalism, and goes back to the time of Edmund Burke in the 18th century who referred to it in a debate about the opening up of reporting of the House of Commons.

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And I am glad to say that it is alive and well today. We have long held onto the role of holding our establishment to account. In recent times this has best been illustrated by the Daily Telegraph’s role exposing the scandal of MPs’ expenses – an exposé ​whose reverberations are still being felt today.

Maria Miller’s belated decision to step down as Culture Secretary after being criticised for her mortgage affairs on her second home shows how sensitive the public still is to the behaviour of their MPs.

But another strand in the role of the Press is its ability to make a difference. Every day the print industry makes a difference for the good to people’s lives, whether that be through campaigning, lobbying or criticising decisions.

And it is an important part of the everyday operation of the Press – a Press that is living through unprecedented scrutiny.

It has been shamed by some outrageous behaviour by some elements of the national press following the revelations about the phone hacking of Millie Dowler and countless other transgressions.

It has seen its self-regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission, shown to be largely powerless and discredited.

And it has been locked in a bitter row with politicians about its future governance structure, opposing a Royal Charter in favour of its own independent Press standards organisation – the successor to the Press Complaints Commission.

However, there is far much more good than bad in our industry. Lord Justice Leveson ​made a point, in his report into standards and behaviour, of recognising​ the very positive contribution that the regional press continues to make to society. He made a clear distinction between the behaviour of the national media and the regional Press – praising the good that they do while faced with some of the most testing economic challenges.​

He called for urgent action by the Government to help safeguard regional newspapers after highlighting the declines in revenues they have faced. The judge highlighted the struggle for survival faced by many local titles, saying “their demise would be a huge setback for communities”.

This brings us back to the Making a Difference Campaign – a celebration of the role of the press during Local Newspapers Week.

Thirty newspaper titles across the country have seen their campaigns shortlisted in the Making a Difference Campaign – including The Yorkshire Post’s Loneliness Campaign and our sister title, the Harrogate Advertiser’s homeless campaign.

​Ten of the 30 titles in the shortlist are from Johnston Press, owners of The Yorkshire Post, underlining the connection our titles have with our communities.

Without a healthy, strong, independent Press, it is highly likely that lives would be different – detrimentally different. So it is appropriate that we take this opportunity to highlight our achievements.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade wrote in his Guardian blog: “Editors and their journalists are finding that mounting campaigns and mobilising readers is amplified by the use of Twitter and other social media sites. Results are achieved faster than ever before, often in days rather than the weeks or months when newsprint was the only platform.” He referred to the 30 strong campaigns that have been shortlisted as powerful campaigns.

Our Loneliness campaign is already well on the way to making a difference. The hidden epidemic of loneliness is debilitating, particularly to the vulnerable and elderly.

Yet local authorities, cognisant of the cost of dealing with the social and health impacts of loneliness, do not have strategies in place. Our campaign is to persuade all local authorities in Yorkshire to write them into those strategies – and it is already gaining traction following a summit held in Leeds last month.​

​Our campaign is just one of hundreds if not thousands run every year by the local press.

And it underlines what is often taken for granted, that the regional Press is part of the fabric of our way of life and our communities.

It is only right that we celebrate it this week. You can vote for The Yorkshire Post Loneliness Campaign at www.localnewspaperweek.co.uk/making-difference.

Jeremy Clifford is the editor of The Yorkshire Post.