Welcome to The New Totnes Pulse
The State of Local & National Journalism
The news outlets that serve our nations and regions are mostly conglomerates. They now mainly exist as vehicles for advertising or promoting the views of billionaire proprietors. The ‘news’ is both information war and hot topic content that enables advertising to reach our eyes. Many physical papers are even ‘wrapped’ in whatever branding and messaging a company or even nation wishes to promote.
This warping of the value of ‘news’ – the subservience of quality, independent content to thinktank bias and advertising sales – is nothing new. But a hugely diminished ‘independent press’ challenges the very integrity of communities. Choice and breadth has vanished. We have to make the false choice instead between competing echo chambers. This impoverishment of thought diminishes our human rights – to knowledge, to independent, evidence-based facts and to genuine community discussion.
The Local Picture
The Media Reform Coalition has just released its 2023 report entitled ‘Who Owns the UK Media.’ For anyone who is concerned about British democracy, it’s an essential read.
The report states that:
“71% of the UK’s 1,189 local newspapers are owned by just six companies.”
The report goes on to show that “The two largest local publishers – Newsquest and Reach – each control a fifth of the local press market, more than the combined share of titles owned by the smallest 173 local publishers.”
And it’s not just the dominance of the few that causes issues- it’s often the quality or depth of their offering too. Anyone who attempts to navigate or read many local publications online is generally met with relentless ads and pop-ups that place the ‘story’ as incidental to the advertising. The choice of stories our current local and regional papers often feature can be driven by the advertising or paid-for advertorial that is provided to them.
Our Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall regularly writes and appears across a whole suite of publications –Herald Express, South Hams Gazette, Totnes Times, South Hams Today, Kingsbridge and Salcombe Gazette, Devon Live and Western Morning News.
Is there any independent editorial fact check for materials Mr Mangnall personally writes in these articles? Does anyone at these media organisations query what is fact, what is selective and what is ‘spin’? If they won’t take content because ‘it’s the voice of the area’s MP’ then they are likely to take it if it’s paid for advertorial.
Our MP has also moved into publishing himself- producing a four-page, full colour ‘newspaper’ with a made-up title. This ‘infomercial’ approach is becoming more common. In this case is the political pamphlet somehow masquerading as a credible ‘news publication’?
To add confusion, even the political colours being used in political campaign literature have started to morph with (predominantly Conservative) candidates opting for ‘green’ branding and reducing the print size of the wording ‘Conservative Party’ to a tiny font size, almost invisible without glasses. The lines between ‘local press’ and political pamphlet are becoming increasingly blurred.
The National Picture
The National picture is stark, with the Media Reform Coalition’s report revealing, “Just 3 companies – DMG Media, News UK and Reach – dominate 90% of the UK’s national newspaper market.” That ‘3’ is a blatantly non-democratic number.
Of course, it’s not just what we get to read that is changing, but how we read it. Dramatically increasing amounts of news content are now being read far more online, especially by the young, with the report revealing- “83% of 16-24 year-olds using internet sources as a main news platform and far fewer using television (47%), radio (25%) or print newspapers (16%)” In fact for many people across society, accessing news through a device means a mixture of human habit and algorithm now directs us to our ‘favourite’ interests, gently curating (some might say directly narrowing) our exposure to balance, new information and surprising realisations. Instead, we are given what the algorithm, marketing and human tendency for habit directs us to.
And the winners of this are clear – just two dominant media players. As the report reveals- “Across all UK users who access news online, 72% use services controlled by Meta
and 71% use services owned by Alphabet”. It’s a concerning revelation – that almost all those viewing habits are being directed, monitored, curated and serviced through two massive companies, more powerful even than national governments.
Local BBC – Death By A Thousand Cuts
Our precious national broadcaster – the BBC – has had to make dramatic funding cuts and has chosen local news (stories that interest and impact on local people) and local radio (the most inclusive service out there for people of all ages) to bear many of them. This means BBC local services in many cases are on life support.
Without a doubt, the government’s current ideological approach to the BBC has resulted in a cheapening of our entire media landscape – and it really matters. The UK Government doesn’t seem to consider a national broadcaster – the very OLDEST national broadcaster- to be either an international asset, or an essential component of a functioning democracy at a local level.
It’s a squandering of resource, heritage and our democratic rights. This limiting of choice, this curatorship controlled by a tiny number of dominant players is not good for the brain. It’s not good for choice. It’s not good for those fugitive things called facts. It’s not good for democracy.
We need a varied diet.
We are lucky in this area that we have the fantastic West Country Voices. Fiercely independent, unwaveringly brave, West Country Voices is an online journal featuring stories of local, regional and national importance. The editor-in-chief is Anthea Simmons.
But I don’t like West Country Voices just because I often write for them.
I write for them because I believe in what they offer for democracy and those things called ‘evidence-based facts’.
And it is why I also want to write for the independent Totnes Pulse and join the editorial team of Peter Shearn and Zoe Clough amongst others. Totnes itself is unwaveringly brave and fiercely independent. And local Totnes voices should be heard. The Pulse is an important opportunity for our Totnes community.
Because at The Pulse we maintain that independent journalism which reflects the culture interests and needs of a local area are absolutely vital. Without a strong and vibrant local media our decision-makers are escaping scrutiny. Poor decisions are being made without consequence. The homogenous span of media organisations, that simply regurgitate content and spew it across multiple publications, has a direct consequence: a cheapening of public discourse, letting poor leadership waste millions in public finances. This has to stop.
So, welcome to the all-new Totnes Pulse.
The Pulse has a 10 year heritage- www.totnespulse.co.uk – and it’s packed full of events, community inside knowledge and insightful content. We intend to deliver brave investigative and driving stories, tales from across the community, and work with our independent colleagues in asking demanding questions and scrutinising the decisions that affect our daily lives.
This new Totnes Pulse of course also continues to host the definitive local What’s On guide for events and culture. We aim to reflect the shops, businesses, organisations, charities, communities, the vulnerable, the marginalised and the young. We want to represent YOU.
What’s in this edition?
It’s a mix of news, environment and politics:
⦁ An Open Letter to South Hams Councillors regarding the Plymouth and South Devon Freeport. We weren’t consulted on this controversial ‘trickle down economics’ experiment. And at a time of huge Council cuts to services, we ask is it wise for South Hams to sink over £5 million, and Devon County Council £15 million into this scheme whilst they cut services?
⦁ We speak with the people behind the South Devon Primary – is this disruptor to 99 years of Conservative dominance in South Devon good or bad for Democracy?
⦁ We meet Richard Howell – the man keeping tabs on planners to protect our beautiful South Hams
⦁ We ask- who really saved Totnes Train Ticket Office?
⦁ And we hear from Force 4 Nature as they volunteer their time on key nature projects across the area.
We Are All Writers
We ask you to not only make the time to read what we are offering, but also to understand this: EVERYONE IS A WRITER. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has the right to expect transparency and to scrutinise decision-making and policies being made on their behalf – especially when it comes to public money. Your Voice Matters.
So, we call on our readership to also become our writership. Because words are powerful and people who write words are more powerful still, giving their ideas and discoveries power to travel across communities and even nations. Words can bring change.
We look forward to serving our community as best we can and hope that our community will want to join us in doing so. This is an endeavour in independent free journalism that can change and grow our community in better knowledge of decisions being made on our behalf. And although we know we won’t always get it right with The Pulse, we will always want to know how we can make it better. Write to us, speak with us – WRITE FOR US. Contact us at email@example.com
Welcome back to the Totnes Pulse. It’s more than a magazine. It’s more than lentils. It’s a community.
A community of readers and writers.
Let’s look at our community, and celebrate it. And where it falls short- lets expect more, and not be afraid to demand it.
Enjoy our First Edition
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