50 of the best – with a dash of pepper

Reading yet another of those “50 best” lists at the weekend led me to wonder why no-one had come up with a “50-best local papers” list.

We have had “50 best cupcake recipes” and “50 best female golf instructors”, and I don’t see why banging the drum for the best community newspapers wouldn’t be a lot more interesting.

All over the country editors and managements are beating themselves up and grovelling to readers over having to increase cover prices.

They have undervalued their own products in the past, and are now being forced to announce huge catch-up rises.  And yet most local newspapers still cost less than the price of an hour’s car parking.

Do readers have the remotest idea how much effort and expertise goes into producing a local paper and how dedicated to their communities most journalists are?

So why can’t the BBC, for instance, which feeds off the local press and never recognises it as a prime source of news bulletins, help celebrate some of the successes of this struggling industry?

Compiling a “50 best local papers” list would be time consuming but not too difficult, and it could make a fascinating series of programmes full of regional colour.

The annual regional press awards would be a good starting point for a researcher, but most newspapers never bother to enter, including plenty of good ones.

Like any connoisseur listing his 50 best wines the press “taster” would have to sip his way through hundreds of bland offerings before finding the best vintages.

It’s not all about news, although that’s the basic ingredient, and it has to be fresh and strong. It’s also about personality, but for those who like a dash of pepper with their news a depressingly large number of weekly titles contain no editorial comment. In my book any paper that does not make a stand on local issues is consigned to the spittoon.

And, like wine, the bouquet is important.  Give me a rough and noisy paper that likes creating a stink and doesn’t worry too much how pretty it looks. Far too much effort is put into design.  It’s content that matters.

– GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.