Is the Brighton Argus in terminal decline?

As a regular (as opposed to an obsessional) reader of the Brighton Argus, I have to say that the standards of journalism and sub-editing seems to be hitting an all time low.  In the past the Argus could boast some exceptional journalists and columnists, but now it appears to be staffed by reporters and subs who know little about Brighton today and less about even its recent history.

I blame the editor and the subs for failing to retain quality journalists and demonstrate an inability to recruit adequate replacements.  Recently, they managed to reduce the brutal murder of a young woman to the appalling headline “Sex Change Prostitute Murdered”.  The Peoples Republic of Hove  blog was right to say that  “the least our local paper can do is show some respect and ditch the prurient sensationalism”.

With ‘journalism’ such as this is it any wonder that the current crop of journalists, forced to work under quite intolerable pressure to produce copy, produces such rubbish,

The sub-editors are no better.  On Friday (30 October) over a story about a local councillor (Les Hamilton) criticising store cards, the headline ran “MP criticises store credit cards”.  Does the Argus employ people who don’t know the difference between Members of Parliament and local councillors?

Having said this, I am a passionate believer in the importance of local papers.  Where else (assuming they are adequately staffed) will local and national politicians, health services, charities and quangos be scrutinised and held to account?  Where do journalists ‘cut their teeth’ and where does investigatory reporting really happen?  Writing in the Guardian earlier this year, Polly Toynbee wrote that one of the biggest threats to democracy was the decline of local and regional papers. I entirely agree.

The blogasphere will never have the resources to do proper and consistent reporting on local politics.  Local papers must be supported.  Local government, rather than printing and distributing its own ‘views sheet’ (as opposed to news sheet), should commit to using and paying for space in local papers, thereby throwing a lifeline to local papers.

I fear, however, that the days of the Argus are numbered.  I hope I am proved wrong, but I would not be surprised if this time next year we will be looking at Latest Homes to provide a brief glimpse of what local authorities are doing.

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5 Responses

  1. It’s rather harsh to say that The Argus is in terminal decline. Even the best among us make mistakes – spelling, grammar, facts. As with all local newspapers, the staff at The Argus are being asked to do more even as their numbers shrink.
    Nor is that the editor’s fault. I’m not aware of any local newspaper editor able to set his or her own budget. And given the big fall in advertising revenue since the start of the credit crunch, it’s hardly surprising budgets are under pressure. It’s affected the likes of ITV too.
    Website start-ups like http://www.brightonandhovenews.org have much lower overheads but, even so, still find it hard to sustain themselves financially.
    We may not always agree with the line taken by The Argus or the tone of a particular story or headline. But it remains the best overall provider of independent news and sport in Brighton and Hove and across Sussex.
    While it will always attract critics, we hope – and are sure – that it is far from being in terminal decline.

    • Points well made. I’m sure the Argus will survive the barbed comments of this undercooked blog! PS like your site and have added it to my blogroll.

  2. Thanks. I’m sure you’re right about The Argus surviving. Mind you, given how much harder it is for local newspapers to cover local government properly, we should all be grateful to blogs like yours. And maybe one day sites like mine.

  3. I really like the Argus. I think it’s so much better than a newspaper.

  4. You are right to draw attention to the decline in the quality of the Argus. Typos aside, there has been a marked diminution in journalistic standards. It was not so long ago that the Argus still had good investigative journalists.

    When I was involved in a campaign to stop New Labour privatising the service I work in about 10 years ago, it was an Argus journalist, Jason Woodward, who dug up the abysmal record of the preferred company and this played no small role in scuppering the plan. More recently there was Miriam Wells who did a good job bring the plight of Guantanamo detainee Omar Deghayes to public attention. I am not sure who’s left to write those kinds of stories.

    I am also just about old enough to remember when the Argus had a well-organised NUJ chapel which took strike action to defend terms and conditions and to keep the paper going. It seems the decline in the paper matches the decline in the union’s power.

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