Local newspapers, community and the rise of social media. Nancy Fielder 16th July 2018

Nancy has been the Editor of the Star and the Telegraph for two years.  Although they once were run by sep­ar­ate edit­or­ial teams they are now under the same team.

The Telegraph star­ted as the Sheffield Evening Telegraph 130 years ago.  It was the first daily paper.  We saw a slide of the front page.  It was not attract­ive and was covered in close print, with head­lines not very vis­ible and no pic­tures.

The front page has been  made more attract­ive over the years and by the Queen’s coron­a­tion showed a black and white photo of her in her robes and crown.  Nowadays, of course, the photos are in colour and the head­lines are in large print so that buyers are attrac­ted, because news­pa­pers are in decline owing to com­ple­tion from tele­vi­sion and the Internet.

Nancy showed us two art­icles from the early papers that illus­trated how life has changed since then.

One was about a bus driver who was taken in front of magis­trates, called Mappin and Hadfield.  The driver was fined 10 shil­lings because his bus was 5 minutes late!

Another art­icle was about a char­lady, who was fined 2s 6d, because she had shaken out a hearth­rug on Westbar after 10 a.m!

Since Nancy became Editor the team has tried to give a pos­it­ive view of the Sheffield area to make read­ers feel good about Sheffield  and the steel industry.  Journalists know that every story can be writ­ten so the it boosts up or knocks down.  The Star and Telegraph try to put a pos­it­ive slant on local stor­ies if pos­sible.

The Star has a web site on which all stor­ies coming into the office are pub­lished, but the report­ers and edit­ors have no con­trol over the number of web hits.  A few days ago the most hits were on a story about a 10 year-old boy who was taken ill at a scout camp.  ( It was on page 7 in the paper.)  The second place on the hits list was a story about par­ents being upset about the demise of the ‘Build a Bear’ shop in Meadowhall!  There are very few hits on polit­ical stor­ies.  It seems that younger read­ers, who chose the Web over news­print, are not inter­ested.

An example of trying to boost Sheffield was an illus­trated art­icle that appeared recently in the papers about a Sheffield firm, who still make tuning forks under the head­line, “Steel City still hits the right notes”.

The ori­ginal offices and print shops of The Star and Telegraph were on High Street in the ‘Telegraph Tower’, now owned by Santander.   They moved to York Street, but the presses were moved to Dinnington sev­eral years ago.

They print 150,000 copies of the papers, but more people look online- about 350,000 each week with 163,000 fol­low­ers on Facebook.  Money is made from advert­ising online, but less than 50% of that made from advert­ising in print.

Nancy told us how the papers are pro­gress­ing.  Responses from the public to the let­ters page tend to be pos­it­ive but not so on social media.  The edit­or­ial policy is to be neut­ral but com­plaints come in about bias — in favour of the tree pro­test­ers or in favour of the coun­cil, in favour of Sheffield United or in favour of Sheffield Wednesday, in favour of the new Mayor or against him etc.   It seems very dif­fi­cult to report the news without someone feel­ing that the papers are show­ing bias.

Questions from the audi­ence were mainly about pages that are in the papers or that used to be in.

The Telegraph used to have prop­erty pages and now does not.  Nancy said that people gen­er­ally look on-line now if look­ing for prop­erty and there has been a massive impact on advert­ising rev­enue.

Another ques­tion was about the res­taur­ant  and dining-out page.   Nancy said that this was very pop­u­lar, pre­sum­ably because people  eat out nowadays much more than they did in the past.

She said that the main com­plaints (other than bias)  that the papers receive are:  if their weather fore­cast is not accur­ate or if they make a mis­take when they pub­lish the answers to the pre­vi­ous edi­tions’ cross­words!

The Star and Telegraph do not cover national news, although they did in the past.  We saw sides of the Titanic Disaster, Scott’s South Pole Expedition, the King decides to abdic­ate but the big stor­ies were local — the Flying Fortress crash in Endcliffe Park, the Battle of Orgreave, Park Hill Flats apply­ing for listed status and the World Student Games.

Nancy fin­ished by saying that The Star per­forms well for a daily paper but cannot be com­pla­cent.  Who would report local news if these papers close?  Look North does not have a journ­al­ist in Sheffield, and although Radio Sheffield has 5 journ­al­ists their news tends to be brief com­pared with the writ­ten page.

We found this a very inter­est­ing view into the local news­pa­per industry, as was demon­strated by the many ques­tion from the audi­ence.