Sugar and spice and all things nice

At the time of writing, Google is returning 1,160,000 results for the search term “community newspaper”, as opposed to 192,000 for “regional newspaper”.  On that basis, you could be forgiven for thinking that community journalism has become the most prevalent form of print media in the world today.

However, as a quick trip to any newsagent will tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The world of newspapers is still dominated by a small number of massive corporations. The prevailing organisational model means that a newspaper’s policies for every area of its operation are imposed from above.

The widespread use of terms like “community newspaper” is simply canny marketing. Newspaper executives have realised that the word “community” has very positive connotations, so they’re co-opting the term in order to benefit from the values associated with it.

Simon Jenkins explains the New Labour concept of community in a Times column,[1] written just after the 2005 election but still relevant today. “[Blair] has created for [David Miliband] two titles: minister for communities and minister for local government. These two responsibilities would be considered the same in any normal country. The trouble for Miliband is that his boss regards them as complete opposites. To Blair “community” is sugar and spice and all things nice, pink, soft and politically neutered. Local government is snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails.”

The idea of community as a fluffy, politically neutral but trendy concept is highly attractive to anybody trying to market a regional publication. Describing your local newspaper as a community newspaper is a way of giving your publication a friendly, local-seeming face. Unfortunately, it is also a way of taking readers and writers away from real community journalism in order to fob them off with a fake alternative.

[1] Via Wilson and Game