Regional press should consider political endorsements, says Higgerson

HiggersonA regional digital chief has suggested local newspapers could break with tradition and endorse political candidates editorially.

Trinity Mirror Regionals digital publishing director David Higgerson says such a move may see high profile politicians pay more attention to the industry during election campaigns.

David’s suggestion comes after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism published research into local press access to both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in the run up to the General Election.

The research was conducted by former Croydon Advertiser chief reporter Gareth Davies, who spoke to nearly 60 local journalists and analysed more than 80 visits by the party leaders, and revealed Mr Corbyn has done fewer interviews with regional papers but Mrs May has been less forthcoming with the answers she had given.

Most regional papers have remained neutral in the election in keeping with long-held tradition in the industry.

Last week Keith Harrison, editor of Wolverhampton daily the Express & Star, denied his newspaper was backing the Tories despite running an editorial which claimed Mrs May will make a “far superior” Prime Minister to Mr Corbyn.

But on his personal blog, David wrote: “Maybe we’d carry more clout at party HQs if we were more than just a vehicle for reporting the election, but actually stated who we thought would do the best job for our local area. Yes, I know editorial impartiality is something we treasure, but we also pride ourselves on fighting for our communities and informing our communities.

“Last week, the Wolverhampton Express and Star got journalism’s watchers chattering with a rather punch editorial column which suggested the titles was coming out in favour of the Tories. Not so, said editor Keith Harrison.

“I don’t generally like leader columns in regional papers, especially daily ones. Too often, they are forced to offer a view on something which doesn’t really warrant a view, or they bend over backwards to offer several sides of an argument, concluding with something trite like ‘The important thing, of course, is that all views are heard.’

“So the Express and Star editorial was at least honest. The fact it provoked a debate within journalism speaks volumes for how generally placid our opinions are.”

David went on to suggest the UK local press adopt the American regional newspaper tradition of endorsing candidates without allowing it to “define their coverage”.

He added: “Daily, I see reporters expressing political opinions on Twitter and Facebook, because they are human beings. It does not call into question the ability of their titles to be fair and balanced? I don’t think so.”

David concluded: “We aren’t going to shame political parties into talking to us. But the size of our engaged audience can be used to carry an informed message, and ensure a new level of political scrutiny and accountability.

“If that were to happen, I think it’s a safe bet May’s answers would be a little more interesting, and Corbyn’s diary would suddenly have more time for the local newsrooms which reach, and engage with, the very people they need to win over.”