Election night at the Camden New Journa

Pic: The Secret Artist @SecretartistNW5

BEFORE we look more at the why, what, where, when about this election, for there probably needs to be a lot of that, I’ve got to say thanks to a few people. Tulip Siddiq mentioned the reporting I’ve done over the recent general elections during her victory speech, but that’s not the CNJ way… because what I do only comes about because of what we do – and that means all the reporters, the production team, the sales department and all the other people who keep the office ticking over, even without the ‘L’ on our shop sign and despite real live foxes trying to break into the newsroom.

The New Journa is a quirky place to work compared to some of the local papers around the country bound up in big conglomerate chains, and one of its traditions is the special editions at general elections. We turn around a new issue within a couple of hours and have been the first on the streets – in print – with the results and some hot takes at the last nine elections. Yesterday, it was out in the high streets and library dispensers at lunchtime.

This may seem old-fashioned in a world where we all consume so much news through the web, and maybe in the memory boxes of the future we will all simply stash printed out screenshots from websites for nostalgia. But I’m not alone thinking there will always be that charm to the physical product and our readers seem to value the effort.

We did the same with stop press editions of the Islington Tribune and Westminster Extra yesterday too. Across six constituencies, it’s hard work on the night for a small team made up of six reporters, two production editors, the printers and our boss, Eric Gordon, so it is appreciated when a candidate, as Tulip did to our surprise, tells everyone from the stage that the New Journal helps keep the debate going locally with  “comprehensive coverage”. As an aside, don’t think I don’t know she pronounces my name wrong deliberately..

 

She meant our political coverage in general rather than one-offs, and it means something because we actually take a risk by devoting so much ink and time to local politics every week. If the local news industry is to live only online, the warning we’d all have is that lurid aspects of fear-inducing crime stories, football – always football – and gimmicky headlines is what draws in traffic, once the care that goes into newspaper lay-out is removed. Issues of greater importance fall by the wayside, public debate is weakened.

We could spend all of our time producing content that will be widely passed around on Facebook and less time at the Town Hall or on the election trail if we are to judge the worth of our work solely on share metrics. That sounds like a horror show to journalists in our office, so it was encouraging during this election, that people seemed to want to engage with political debate, whether in print and online, like never before. Maybe that was the sign that younger voters had resolved in greater numbers to take part this time.

Who knows what the world of local newspapers will look like at the next general election, if we really are to wait five years until we are all gathered in the Somers Town gym for another all-nighter. There’s going to need to be, at some stage, a realistic and genuine debate about how good local news is resourced, whether in print or online, whoever is delivering it. Maybe the next time we vote for our next MP, local journalism we will be reduced to one long Facebook post written only in emoticos.

I hope not, because this election, we’ve seen that people care too much for that and they are engaged. In the week before the election, we had to lay on a fifth page of letters in the print edition. No, they weren’t all from candidates and councillors, yes, the pages were open to all. That community pulse still beats strong.

It’s not all back-patting. Beyond the Labour and Conservative campaigns, I know that parties, chiefly the Liberal Democrats, feel that they have been squeezed out of the press coverage in Camden, but the lay of the land has to guide what we can do. The reality is there were no big campaign events to report on, like the day Nick Clegg brought the battle bus to West Hampstead in 2010 or Tim Farron’s tour in 2015, and there was a shortage of local policy announcements to report on. In a 17-news page paper, we’d also be accused of running askew if we used whole half pages of precious space to cover Rainbow George’s manifesto in full detail, or in depth interviews with independent and UKIP candidates that so few people were pledging to vote for. Of course, if Lord Buckethead had stood here, that would be a different matter of course… 

Maybe I sound defensive of our paper because, personally, I think some of our national media embarrassed themselves at this election by taking Jeremy Corbyn on as a wild caricature rather than properly critiquing his policies, which ironically would’ve been more effective if they really wanted to undermine him. On a selfish level, I wish they wouldn’t be so madly cartoonish about it, as it will only hasten the speed at which people abandon newspapers as a whole. It will ruin it for us all.

Certainly, it is beginning also to look like some endorsements have little effect, and possibly do more harm than good. In London, for example, the Evening Standard still feels the need to tell the city to vote for the Conservatives and yet nearly every time its constituent readers seem do otherwise; the trend in a pretty red London has been to ignore explicit recommendations to vote for Cameron, Goldsmith and now May. Maybe we’d all do better to do more reporting, and less predicting, less assuming.

The story in Camden at this particular election, squeezed as it was here and elsewhere, developed in Hampstead and Kilburn where – despite the final margin between victory and defeat – Labour and the Conservatives contested an intriguing duel. Most voters in the lesser-reported Holborn and St Pancras constituency, who knew exactly what was going to happen in their own area, could see how that was reflected in how the news reporting was divided up this time.

But it wasn’t just me who brought it to the newsstands, and that brings me back to the top, and making sure you know that when Tulip was speaking on the stage, she was really also thanking my friends and colleagues too, the journalists Tom Foot, Dan Carrier, Alina Polianskaya, Emily Finch, William McLennan, Koos Couvee and the escapees who who have recently departed our team but played a part in what politicians would call the long campaign, Joe Cooper and Ella Jessel. We have a debt to the team of sub-editors too, and it was Allan Ledward and Joyce Arnold who had the red eyes yesterday morning. And of course, there’s our editor, the co-founder Eric, who always seems to persuade the printers to let us go just that little bit later to get our special election issue out. Let’s hope the presses are still rolling the next time you vote.

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