Local news FAIL

Sometimes I fear I give the Express and Echo - the newspaper for my home city of Exeter - somewhat of a rough ride. Given I know the area better than most papers, their site is one I tend to visit on a more regular basis than others, hence my worry that any criticisms are probably no more than nitpicking on my part. And then I get days like today, where the criticism is checked least it becomes too cutting.

Why? Like many others, I've been somewhat glued to the ongoing news around the economic crisis, and yesterday came the news that local authorities across the country had significant sums of money tied up in the Icelandic banking system. Devon's council's, at first, didn't appear among them.

I was out last night, so didn't get time to check again until this morning when the first place I read about it was on Exeter City matchday programme editor Mike Blackstone's football blog (yes, I check my football feeds before anything else. Force of habit).

Seeing Exeter City Council's name on the list made me search for more. Naturally, the first place I headed was the Echo's site, only to forget they don't post their full articles online immediately, so instead I found this:

COUNCIL leaders are battling to recover millions of pounds invested in Iceland's troubled banks.

But they are attempting to ease fears public services could be affected, claiming there is "no short-term risk" despite the crisis.

The reassurance comes amid the news South West councils have hefty cash deposits in several financial institutions, including high street banks.

Despite initial reports that Devon's councils did not have investments in collapsed Icelandic banks, it has now emerged that Exeter City Council has £5m invested, including £3m with Landsbanki and a £2m on deposit with Glitnir.

For the full story see Friday's paper.

Which told me absolutely nothing whatsoever that I didn't already know. 

Incidentally, in between starting this blog post ten minutes ago (11.10pm) and now, the full text has become available. A bit too late, really as I'd already found what I needed to know elsewhere.

A quick Google News search found much better articles on the Exmouth Herald's site (which is a much smaller paper) and the sister site of Devon-wide paper, the Western Morning News. The latter was understandably Devon-centric but also told me, for the first time, that Mid Devon District Council - which covers where my family live - also had a lesser sum of money tied up in an Icelandic bank.

Had the full Echo article been online at that point in time, I wouldn't have needed to go elsewhere to find this out. Nor try and fill in the Exeter-specific gaps that I simply couldn't find anywhere else.

A cursory search of del.icio.us and Digg didn't turn up anything, not was there anything more specific on the blog searches. None of these were a massive surprise (although possibly says something about social media, or lack of takeup, and Devon). Had I had time, I'd have searched Wordpress tags.

As it is, I sent off a couple of emails to friends I was fairly sure would be in the know, and got most of the information through that. I did briefly consider ringing up the press office at the council to find out more, and then blog it [1] (which raises another interesting point about blogs and citizen journalism, but I'll leave that for another time).

[In case you're asking why I'm so interested, it's because this used to be my reporting patch and was home for around 21 years, so I tend to take a strong interest, even if I don't live there any more].

So, you may say, what does this matter. In some respects, it doesn't. I'm just one person writing on a probably not very widely read blog about something that irks me. Hell, it's not as if there aren't enough of *those* around.

But, on the other hand, it's still a potential eyeball that they're losing elsewhere. As soon as I couldn't find what I was looking for, I wet elsewhere. Now they've actually stuck the article up, I clicked around the site without ever really thinking.

And, what really gets to me, is they have the news, but I have to spend a bit longer searching elsewhere to find it. As a result, I've now pulled together several Devon-related news feeds from assorted sources meaning I don't have to go back to the site unless there's something of burning interest.

I'm pretty sure I can't be the only person with ties to Exeter who checks all their news online each morning rather than in the paper, and has a decent set of RSS news feeds relevant to their interests.

The world's a global place. People have moved around. Yet I suspect I'm also not alone in being a person who keeps tabs on the news 'back home' even though I no longer live there. To be unable to access this news on the basis that you don't live within the paper's sales area is crazy. We're global citizens, but we'd still like hyperlocal news for areas we're connected to m'kaaay?

[Again, another question here - in this current economic climate would it be worth the site offering the paper online on a subscription basis? I'll leave that one dangling.]

This isn't the first time I've had a little moan about this particular pet peeve, and it probably won't be the last.

It's a shame because, as I often point out, there's a lot I like and respect about the Echo - both in the paper and on the website.

I can get Exeter City news elsewhere (and did a long time before I moved). Big national stories of interest occurring in Exeter I can also get elsewhere (although recognise the nationals probably will have a more general overview than the excellent local reporting you often get in these situations).

But this is the first time there's been a specific local story I've been keen to read. I suspect that it won't be too long before I can get most information on any further local stories I want to find out more about without having to wait until 11pm to read the full article.

A quick plea to finish: please, please, please, any local papers who partake in this habit - open your articles up. It really will help your brand and paper in the long run.

[1] Technically, although I work full-time in a non-journalism job, I can classify myself as freelance, even if it's football and media writing and not reporting.