Are staffing levels a barrier to digital innovation in local newsrooms?

As a former local newspaper hack I follow lots of people on Twitter who are still involved in the industry, so yesterday I saw plenty of the #localjournalism hashtag in my feed.

This tweet from Hilary Scott really stood out for me as it chimes with some thoughts I’ve been having recently about the evolution of digital journalism and my time working on a weekly newspaper in Kent.

Journalists today have an array of incredible tools at their fingertips, carrying smartphones packed with useful apps where I once went out on jobs armed simply with a notebook and a pen, and I often find myself wondering how I could have improved my reporting on my old beats if I had been able to access such tools while I was at the Dover Express.

But then I think about the way we worked on that title and I wonder if these tools could have been something of a mixed blessing when I was a reporter.

When we were still based in Dover we were a small team of two reporters and a news editor, ultimately overseen by an editor based in a neighbouring town. My colleagues in that Dover office were great journalists and wonderful people to work with but there is no denying that we were often working flat out simply to satisfy the demands of the copy flow to a remote subbing hub.

Such was the pressure on resources – mainly time – that actually going out to a job in person was considered something of a luxury. Often the pressure to fill the paper meant interviews were conducted by phone in between bashing out leads, down page and nibs.

So although I look inside the digital journalist’s toolbox with a sense of excitement – and envy at the thought of what these advances could have meant for my work in local news – I also wonder if I would have been able to realise the full potential of those tools as a reporter on a small weekly paper.

I’m not convinced my editor would have appreciated me working on multimedia immersive storytelling projects when I was the only reporter in the newsroom and all he really wanted was five nibs so he could get a page at the back of the book away to the subs.

I’d be interested to hear from reporters still working in the local press to find out if any of what I have written above rings true. I’d love to hear that everyone has enough time and resource to be fully exploring the opportunities presented by today’s digital tools, but fear the reality might be slightly different. Leave a comment below or tweet me @rhysdgriffiths.

FURTHER READING

Revival of Local Journalism Conference: 13 themes which matter for the future (David Higgerson)

#localjournalism: Welcome to a new golden era (Charles Miller)

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