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.