Washing cars or whatever: Claire Enders on the future of local journalism

I’ve spent the evening leafing through Claire Enders’ evidence to the Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport.

Enders, founder of the eponymous consulting firm, came up before the committee alongside Christopher Thomson, chief executive of DC Thomson, on 16 June.

You might remember the reports. Mostly, these focused on Enders’ forecast that half of Britain’s local papers would be forced to close during the next five years.

For sure, those numbers are significant, but they’re hardly new. Enders Analysis has made similar forecasts in the past.

For me, it was something else about Enders’ evidence (which the Commons got round to putting online last week) that was revelatory.

In Enders, I suspect that the local press at last has acquired an advocate without a visible vested interest who can make its case eloquently at the highest level.

Separately, I’m planning to sift through the minutes for interesting pieces of analysis. But for now, here are Claire Enders’ thoughts on local journalists themselves.

Some readers will squirm at the mention of “very fine people”, but IMHO, it’s a masterpiece of understated appreciation that avoids both sloganeering and mawkishness. In any event, see what you think:

The people who work in the press are highly trained individuals, otherwise they would not still be there. You have to be able to do stories very quickly, you have to have an inquiring mind. I am not saying that all journalists are wonderful people but I am saying that there is a particular cast of mind.

Let us not forget that the British nation produces probably more words per capita than any other nation. We are a very literate nation, so it is a calling that has attracted many very fine people.

Those people may well, as indeed they already do, engage in blogging but they are going to have to make a living during the day, whatever it is – washing cars or whatever – and they will not be able to spend the time or be paid to spend the time to investigate local politics, or local issues which are of extraordinary interest.

If you ever read the local press, you will see that much of what really matters to communities is about the interface between the population and the rulers; the local council or the national government or whatever. Collectively people in a local community feel more empowered if someone is advancing their cause. They expect that of the press.

During the rest of the Q&A session, Enders emerged as a supporter of consolidation and a bold critic of the way in which government has diverted state expenditure on classified advertising away from the local press.

Surprisingly, the committee didn’t ask her for more prospective solutions. Most likely, they would have heard something interesting.

I say this because — unusually for a consultant — Enders is nothing if not forthright. After spending months working as a supplier of data and insights to Lord Carter, she roundly criticized the government’s policies on digital inclusion and predicted that Digital Britain would offer solutions that were “neither here nor there”.

Meanwhile, note Enders’ ironic throwaway reference to journalists seeking alternative employment: washing cars or whatever.

Enders’ pessimism about local journalism connects directly with what she calls the economic ‘implosion’of local communities outside the ‘gilded cage’of London.

What Claire Enders brought with her to the petrified meeting rooms of Westminster was a blast of grass roots frustration at a dying government’s inability to shape a coherent response to the crisis in media.

Credit is due to her for that.

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