As newspapers axe the folding paper version along with staff, a new breed of heroic citizen journalist is taking to the internet in a valiant attempt to fill the gap.
These are not village correspondents formerly paid a couple of pence a line to fill columns with turgid district news.
They’re a darn sight more professional than that.
I don’t always agree with what they say – and a couple have substantial libel payouts pending – but you’ve got to admire their chutzpah and determination to reveal issues that some people would prefer to remain hidden.
First off is a stunning North Yorkshire website called NY Enquirer run by Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks.
A quick flick through the pages turned into a whole evening of reading the regularly updated shenanigans of various parish, town and county councils along with the doings of North Yorkshire Police and parks authorities.
These guys have spent an inordinate amount of time unravelling the saga of the man formerly known as “Leeds’s own Jimmy Savile”.
That moniker bit the dust a while ago, around the time his elaborate tombstone was ripped up and removed in pieces from Scarborough cemetery.
Nigel and Tim call themselves “citizen journalists” but actually they are a great deal better than that, turning out the sort of in-depth investigation that daily newspapers I’ve worked on would have been proud of in the 1980s – all without NCTJ shorthand, law courses and intro writing advice that we benefited from.
Next up is Carmarthen Planning Blogspot run by Welsh blogger Jacqui Thompson under the name Caebrwyn.
She’s been holding Carmarthenshire County Council to account since 2009 and her blog features a picture of her being arrested in 2011 for trying to film a council meeting on her mobile phone.
Jacqui currently has a charge on her home after losing a libel case but setting aside that particular scrum, she is absolutely unwavering in her determination to hold those in authority to account, even though she may lose her home.
Her blog is also easy to read, well written and has had lots of support nationally. It was nominated in the Wales Blog Awards in 2010. She’s also got 14,000+ tweets to her name in the Twittersphere.
Neil Wilby is a former MD for Johnston Press. I didn’t come across him until last year so we never worked together in the industry but it’s clear that his UPSD blogs – which have expanded to take in West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Greater Manchester police forces – have been compiled with a lot of inside information.
To run this sort of blog successfully you need unrivalled contacts and Neil clearly has these in bucketfuls.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though and he has lost a libel case. Much of what he says is controversial and focuses on individual police officers, which some may feel is unfair, but he earns his place here by standing up for what he believes in and championing the cause of people he feels were wrongly convicted.
Rutland’s Martin Brookes is a read I never miss. A forthright man who says what he thinks.
His Martin Brookes Blogspot landed him in trouble with those-who-would-rather-not-be-
Finding him not guilty, District Judge John Temperley told him: “Freedom of expression is an essential function of a democratic society. It is applicable also to those who offend and shock.”
Former Oakham town councillor Martin takes his camera along to council meetings so the public get a very good idea of the sort of monotony reporters have to deal with in endless dreary committees.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is enamoured with Martin and his blog but it’s not just a council-bashing diatribe. Martin and his camera are out and about most days recording the local street scene and Oakham events.
In years to come his blog will have a valuable record of local life in pictures.
There are numerous stories which could be followed-up by local newspapers in these blogs and it’s a shame that issues already researched in some detail are largely ignored.
OK, we don’t have the sort of newspaper staffs we had years ago. We may not even have our own editor. But we should make the time to investigate what is being handed to us on a plate.
Not all of it will check out, but some of it will and anyone who dismisses bloggers as bonkers individuals with too much time on their hands is doing them a major disservice.
We didn’t become journalists to fill our newspapers/websites with drivel so let’s get stuck in and work with bloggers like these who have excellent local knowledge and the tenacity and drive to take the lid off issues which affect everyone.