This week, the Torquay Herald Express allowed the local police force to publish a story direct to its website for the first time.
The Torquay Police Neighbourhood Team, posting under the byline TorquayPolice, issued an appeal to identify a bag thief. Click here to view the story.
With the advent of more local news hubs with free content generated by community contributors, such as The Exeter Daily, and a greater demand for immediate news combined with fewer journalists covering the beat on established media outlets, it is understandable that regional newspapers and news websites are looking for ways to post authoritative content.
However, I think the Herald Express has shot itself in the foot with this move. The main USP the Herald Express has over its user-generated content rivals is that its content is written by trained journalists. This results in a better quality of story that adds value to readers' experiences of the medium.
The story published by TorquayPolice does not appear to have been proofread or sub-edited. Poor quality writing can negatively impact on readers' trust of the content, although this is slightly mitigated by the fact it is written by an authority - in this case the Police - rather than a member of the public or a PR. The writing style is very different to news posted by Herald Express reporters, resulting in an inconsistent reader experience.
In commercial terms, Press Gazette editor Dominic Ponsford points out : "A higher standard of English and journalism attracts a higher standard of advertiser."
The Torquay Herald Express is part of Local World. Last year, Local World chairman David Montgomery said the role of journalists would change so they would become content 'harvesters' and that much of the 'human interface' of local news publishing would disappear.
For PR practitioners, this is likely to make publishing stories on behalf of clients easier, with less risk of press releases being changed. But, for the general public, this is a huge loss. Who is going to dig down deeper to get the 'real' story. Where is the added value? Where is the differentiation? Which outlets should consumers trust? How will this make the reader experience enjoyable? And, for advertisers, why should they spend their money with established local media outlets and not with community news hubs? The money will be spent where the audience is, which might not necessarily be with the established outlets.
As a former journalist, whose first experience of a real news room was at the Herald Express, this move makes me very sad. I accept that the media environment has changed massively in the past decade. But I believe that local media outlets should be positioning themselves as authors of quality, trusted content.
What role do you think local media outlets should play in providing news to the local community?