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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Bugger hyperlocal, it's just a good solid local paper that we need

A good read that has appeals and an admiring readership way beyond NW1 - the Camden New JournalBugger hyperlocal, it is plain, old fashioned local newspapers that I love. In fact, what I mean to say is - if only we could have a local paper which is half as good, a quarter as brilliant, an eighth as entertaining, and a sixty-fourth as campaigning as the Camden New Journal.

At the end of every week I make sure I enter the holy borough of Camden - even if it just means walking a little way up Tottenham Court Road from Goodge Street - to pick up a copy of this excellent free sheet. I will even go to Angel to get a copy of sister paper, the Islington Tribune. But it is the CNJ itself which, I believe, has made itself essential reading for anyone who takes  an interest in inner-city London life.

The CNJ is one of the original free-sheets, leading the way for a host of much less honourably motivated publications including the sadly un-phoenix-like Standard. It was born out of an NUJ strike at the Islington Gazette in the early 1980s, and unlike many similar ventures at the time (e.g., the still sadly missed City Limits) it has not merely kept going but has gone from strength to (at least editorially) -strength.

The word free sheet suggests something of little worth - a free sheet, at least in London in recent years, has generally mean a dismal, unedited  tabloid publication stuffed with undisguised advertorial about new homes, posh new eateries and private schools, and a bit of press-release based news coverage. (I'm talking specifically here about the Battersea, Wandsworth and Clapham Guardian titles, which used to be ok-ish but are now simply not worth the bother of picking off the floor onto which they are occasionally flung by some underpaid delivery man). Then there are those thin and thinly disguised bits of propaganda for your lovely local authority

The CNJ is still a real newspaper, still independent of either the big media groups, private equity gangsters or the local authorities. It is one of the very few survivors of community-based local newspapers. And one which still pays its journalists - or so I have been told.

For years we've been told, we have been believing the mantra, that local newspapers are dead, that the way ahead is the hyperlocal blog.  Well, the CNJ is alive and (I hope) reasonably well - but where are  hugely successful hyperlocal blogs?

In London, there's a curious hierarchy. You have the dominant regional free sheet - the Evening Standard - but also competing regional listings sites (Time Out, the Londonist, bits of the Standard, and the London editions of national papers Guardian, Indie etc).

Then there are the surviving local paper groups - Ham & High, Islington Gazette, CNJ, the Advertisers south of river along with the South London Press; that Richmond-based lot once owned by the Dimblebys but  owned by Newsquest, and all the horrible estate agent porn (Kensington Magazine etc).

Online, things are editorially healthier but financially not so solid: look how hard the Brixton Blog and Bugle had to to try to crowd-fund a paid news reporter. This is a volunteer-run operation,  and has become a popular online news and features focused blog with a monthly print tabloid, both of which seem, oddly enough, to fit in nicely with  their competition)  Its sort-of competitor, the Brixton Buzz site, seems to have done a good deal with the fortnightly listings and leisure  sheet, Lambeth Life, which offers a very readable and genuinely informative take on  the cultural life of the borough every other week. At the moment, you could say SW2 & 9 were super-served, blogwise.

New imaginative ventures such as Goldsmiths' Eastlondonlines do a great job, but …I still wish we had a CNJ down south….

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