A story on the website Hold The Front Page about a campaign by the Exmouth Journal reminded me of the power newspapers have to change people’s lives for the better, writes Andrew Howard of Lakeside Media public relations.
In these days of Leveson inquiries, and court cases about phone hacking, it’s perhaps useful to pause a moment and consider how the media can really make a positive difference to the communities they serve.
As my background is in the local and regional press, that’s where I’ll focus. So here are ten examples of local papers really pulling through for their readers.
1: Culture. Hull has just been named as the City of Culture for 2017. This was a campaign strongly backed by the local paper up there, the Hull Daily Mail. The paper’s editor, Neil Hodgkinson, is also a member of the City Leadership Board, and is modest about the role the paper played in winning the bid, but the Mail campaigned strongly on the issue in print and online. On TV coverage following the announcement, I spotted the Mail’s former editor, John Meehan, (also a former Express & Echo editor) cheering as loudly as anyone else.
2: Lifesaving. The Burton Mail recently ran a campaign called Take Five Minutes in a bid to find a bone marrow transplant for Katherine Sinfield, wife of the editor of its sister paper the Ashbourne News Telegraph. Having been diagnosed with leukaemia the 33-year-old was told her only hope was a transplant. And the appeal worked – a donor was found, so a life has hopefully been saved.
3: Parking. Parking charges are something that often get people’s blood boiling, so are always good for a story or two. The Argus in Brighton took that one stage further when it campaigned against increases of up to £1 an hour in the city. Park the Charges attracted hundreds of residents and traders and the result was a reduction in some charges and a freeze on others. A clear victory.
4: Christmas. It’s that time of year again, when many papers launch their festive appeals. One success last year belonged to the Newham Recorder, which managed to hand out toys to an astonishing 15,000 children in what is one of the UK’s poorest boroughs. The paper gathered support from stars of EastEnders, and West Ham United Football Club.
5: Crime. The Sutton Guardian launched Help This Hero after 97-year-old war veteran Joseph Bourne was conned out of £2,000 he had been saving for a new mobility scooter. Cheques duly came in, but were ripped up after pensioner Florence Shepherd contacted the paper to offer her new scooter, worth £3,500, which she couldn’t use.
6: Jobs. A number of papers across the country have run campaigns to match young people, and some not so young, with vacancies for apprenticeships. Last year, The Journal in Newcastle and the Teeside Evening Gazette joined forces and found places for 2,500 people, a big increase from the 1,350 helped in 2011. The scheme had initially been set up to find positions for 100 people.
7: Safety. After the number of deaths in house fires in the county reached a 13-year high, the Shropshire Star teamed up with the local fire service and saw more than 1,000 smoke detectors distributed for free. Deputy chief fire officer John Redmond said: “Our main role is to prevent fires and accidents and to do that effectively we need to communicate with people, and the newspaper, website and local offices have greatly improved our ‘reach’ into the local population.”
8: Litter. Boston Borough Council and the Boston Standard teamed up with a simple but effective campaign to catch litter louts. The paper published images taken from CCTV of people dropping rubbish, and on the same day pictures of seven were published, five were identified by readers.
9: History. That Exmouth Journal campaign to recognise a World War I hero managed to defeat the bureaucracy which insisted that as Victoria Cross winner Rex Warneford was born in India he could not be honoured with an official commemorative stone in Exmouth, the town where he grew up. The Journal gathered support from politicians, historians and other military campaigners, and a swift Whitehall U-turn followed.
10: Health. One campaign I launched while at the Express & Echo was Save Our Sight, which fought to get Lucentis approved for use by the NHS as a treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration. It cost much less than a similar alternative, and so I hope we helped to save the sight of many people across the UK. These days, of course, Lakeside Media supports Devon in Sight, the charity for people with sight loss.
Please let me know what you think newspapers should campaign on, by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.