The Slugger Awards 2008: Local newspaper of the year

The next category I’d like to introduce is the award for local newspaper of the year (i.e. those papers beyond the ‘big three’ dailies in Belfast). In running these awards, we’ve had a few comments about how parochial the whole thing seems, and we’re not apologising for that. If you believe in the effective extension of the franchise, it is hard not to see that poor-quality local government is not a major obstacle. And in an age in which the media are rapidly deserting local coverage, preferring to reach for the golden ring of 24-hour rolling news from global capitals, then we can reasonably expect the degree of scrutiny that is applied to local government to fall further.This is the unglamourous end of the media, yet in many ways, it is the most vital. In Northern Ireland, while the big political beasts have rowed away from a wilful stoking of communal tension, those problems are still very much in existence in some localities. We’ve already asked you to nominate the best local authorities in Northern Ireland and we’d ask you to bear this question in mind for that award.

But which local newspaper has made itself the candid – and often critical – friend of those who are seeking to make Northern Ireland a better place? Which paper is reporting bread-and-butter issues in a conversational way? Which one is offering even-handed commentary and good responsible reporting? Which one is catching politicians out when they duck the big questions? And which one is offering fair coverage when politicians do the right things?

We’re not looking for newpapers that offer fawning indulgence (or the lazy recycling of press releases) to politicians. But neither are we looking for newpapers that thrive on cheap ‘gotchas’ or personalised campaigns. Is there a local newspaper in Northern Ireland that is still taking local coverage seriously – despite the temptations to do otherwise? Let us know in the thread below.

Please note, we’re also going to do a local journalist of the year (and we’ll be judging this on whoever has run with the best story), so please confine nominations and suggestions to actual papers at this point? Usual Slugger Award rules here – negativity gets deleted on sight.

  • Blackmouth

    The best local newspaper by far is the County Down Spectator – a bit too Ulster Unionist for my tastes but good local coverage. Also they have quite a whitty columnist called Louise Farr – I think that’s her first name but she is funny.

  • interested

    I assume all the local Sunday rags are excluded from this contest too….

  • Eddie

    Before the bloggers start discussing all this. Mick, please give us some more details.

    When you say “we” are going to judge the newspaper of the year and the journalist of the year, who are “we” – who are the judges?

    What are the criteria – please can you list them. Are we talking about political journalists, feature journalists, sports journalists, women journalists, or what? Or will there be several categories?

    As for newspapers, will these be speed of coverage, comprehensiveness of coverage, depth of coverage, the attractive or otherwise layout of the newspaper, use of photography,associated internet site, perceived reliability, strength of investigations if any, balance or otherwise of coverage, or what?

    Or is it just going to be done by some sort of vote on here? Or by the general weight of opinion here?

    I’m not trying to discourage you at all, but a lot of these “award” things can be open to abuse and manipulation.

  • The Serpent

    I am a big fan of local newspapers and thankfully the local newspapers in my area are competitve but not on a sectarian basis as they are in some other towns/cities.Both the Newry papers ( The Newry Reporter and the Newry Democrat) are read on both sides of the divide and are well written and informative. The Newry Democrat however shades it in my opinion as its bigger, more modern in design and has a better nose for a story. Also the section on each areas local news is excellent. The entertainment pages also stand out and Fabian Boyles history section is supurb.

  • Skintown Lad

    Impartial Reporter in Fermanagh always gets a good balance and spots the more interesting angles to stories where its main rival, the Herald, sometimes fails. They could do with a columnist though.

  • Eddie

    Latest figures from ABC (Audited Bureau of Circulation)

    Newry Reporter: 14,474
    Newry Democrat: 8,371

  • Mick Fealty

    Eddie,

    Follow the link on the logo at the top left. We have quite a few confirmed, and others pending. As chair, I will be recommending that all the judges give careful reading to the comments here. So your nominations and your reasons for doing so are crucial for deepening the quality of the Awards.

  • Mark McGregor

    No bloggers on this panel? Surely at least Pete deserves a free glass of red or two at the judging meetings for the amount of work he puts in.

  • wild turkey

    Mick

    does the exclusion apply only to the Belfast Big3? If so, can I assume the ATN and Derry Journal are in the running?

    ‘The best local newspaper by far is the County Down Spectator ‘

    Blackmouth, didn’t Colin Bateman write for (or edit?) the Speccy?

  • Mark McGregor

    I’m going to suggest the Lisburn/Ulster Star for consistently giving fair coverage to SF’s Paul Butler despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact?) it drives a sizable section of their readership nuts as demonstrated via the letters page.

  • Driftwood

    Bateman was deputy ed, maybe even ed of the County Down Spectator. A “lifetime achievement” award for the ‘Ireland’s Saturday Night’?

  • kensei

    How many people exactly are going to be familiar with more than one, maybe two local papers?

    We get the North Belfast News. It does the job, and gets read by a few people in the house every week. I don’t have much basis to compare elsewhere, except for the odd Anderson Town News.

    Is everyone just gong to come on and go “Yeah, our local paper is great?”

  • Mark McGregor

    Kensei,

    Unfortunately Mick’s rule on negativity means we can’t really compare them on their main beneficial factors – ripability, absorbency and smearing levels.

  • Blackmouth

    Driftwood

    The sad fate of the Ireland’s Saturday Night – I always remeber my da sending me out to get “an Ulster” on a Saturday night after coming home from a few jars, aside I genuinely think the County Down Spectator provides good coverage of everything that’s going on in their area with genuinely interesting columnists – Louse Farr and Adam Harbinson, whose “wit and wisdom” column sometimes had me reaching for my keyboard to refute his arguments is a genuinely good local paper. I would imagine this is reflected in the circulation – everyone I know in Bangor always buys “The Speccie” on a Thursday.

    The decline of newspapers is actually quite sad, especially here in the UK where we have the longest tradition of reading them.

  • Eddie

    Mick
    Many thanks for your answer (@7 above) to my query (@3 above) as to the criteria for this award and the identity of the judges.

    I have consulted the link you recommended but there are no names there, unless you mean that Stratagem will be the judges – i.e. Quintin Oliver and his staff. Do tell.

    Again, it would be nice to know on what basis we are being asked to recommend a local paper – the most political, the least political, the most unbiased. the most investigative, the best written, the most literate – or what??? Do tell

  • Driftwood

    Blackmouth
    I’m in South Down so the Co. Down Spectator isn’t really my area. I do have a sub to The Spectator magazine (a snip at £1 per issue delivered- worth it for Theodore Dalrymple alone). But my local rags are of no journalistic value. People buy to see who hasn’t paid their TV licence etc…Local councillors fill the pages with potholed roads, dog fouling outrages etc. But a good columnist can make a newspaper. I used to buy The Independent just for Robert Fisk. The “Ulster” was a tradition with my da and sad to see that era passing. Did it get a thread on slugger?

  • Blackmouth

    Dirftwood

    I never had any interest in football really – my da was appalled when I told him I played defence for the school hockey team and won the BB Badminton Competition! – so the passing of the “Ulster” wasn’t really a big thing for me, but I always feel quite sad when a paper folds – printed words are, I think (sorry Mick), in some strange way of more legitimacy than that which appears on the net. Nevertheless, my vote goes to the County Down Spectator.

    PS. In my school study periods we always had the Daily Telegraph and the Irish Times – whilst the DT has gone down a populist almost tabloid route (though I always read anything Paul Johnston writes), the Irish Times is still a quality paper. In NI terms, the only papaer worth reading (and this from a Unionist!) is the Irish News. The rest are crap, especially the Belfast Telegraph.

  • Driftwood

    I’m ok with the Irish Times. I like Damian Johnson in the Telegraph. The Irish News is miles ahead of the News Letter (which I can’t see surviving). Given the access to 24 hour news, the only way papers are going to survive, in my opinion, is through quality of commentators and analysis. Printed papers are still great for relaxing and reflecting, but actual “news” is now passing them bye. Co. Down Spectator sounds fine, big catchment area.

  • Mick Fealty

    Eddie,

    You need to hit the judges page link at the top of the page (http://tinyurl.com/5s9usm). That’s the core of the judging process, but we’ll be announcing the full process in due course.

    The criteria are deliberately not tightly set. But it’s not about sports coverage. It’s the Slugger Political Awards, so I guess can take from that that we are talking about the way they cover local politics. There is no precedent that I can think of for this, particularly on the local level. This has to be a case of suck it and see. People should say what they like and why. The rest should follow.

    I’ve excluded the big three on the basis that they would likely dominate the competition. The key is local. So, yes, ATN, Derry Journal, Impartial Reporter, Down Recorder, Ballymoney Times, Strabane Chronicle, Ulster Star, Newtownards Chronicle, Londonderry Sentinel, Tyrone Constitution, Banbridge Leader, Carrick Advertiser (and many others) would fill this space nicely.

    I’m not adverse to people pushing the boundaries a bit too. If you have a local radio station for instance (I know Highland Radio in Donegal has an excellent reputation for local engagement) that you think competes well on this score, let us know and we’ll make a judgement on that.

    I don’t want these Awards to become a stuffy top down event for the great and the good. There is a real chance here for you guys to help shape if not the final outcome, then the material upon which the judging panel (which is still developing btw) makes it’s decision. The richer that material the greater value the Awards will have.

    The no negative comment rule is actually meant to enable people to concentrate on what they think is good about their paper in absolute, rather than comparative terms. For most of us, we only have one, and possibly two local papers. What’s a good read in Rasharkin is likely not available in Kesh. Direct comparisons are likely to be difficult enough even in the final event.

    It’s worth noting too that we’ll be looking for opportunities to try and co-opt the more constructive comments and possibly commenters further into the process.

    At the beginning of the Troubles, there were more than 50 local newspapers, which often (and still do) provided the crunchiest content for the following day’s headlines in Belfast. Severe commercial pressures are making it more difficult for them, but we’re keen (as we always have been) to highlight best practice and encourage those papers who still take their democratic responsibilities seriously.

    Hope that’s helpful and not too rambling?

  • Eddie

    Mick
    AH! Right, I think some of us have been misled, not intentionally I am sure.

    I see you now calling it the “Slugger Political Awards” (In Capital letters – for local weekly papers, that is) and not, as some of us here first thought, the Newspaper of the Year,which was the impression that could have been received initially.

    So anybody above who was talking about witty (general)columnists or extent of (general) coverage etc. can rest easy. It’s politics again.

  • I’m not from Fermanagh (like Turgon it’s the woman in my life who provides the link) but I find the Impartial Reporter much better than (for example) the locals I would have read in Ballymena. There’s always a slant on local politics which the dailies haven’t picked up. For that reason my nomination would go to the Impartial Reporter. It is also perhaps the most hilarious for silly little local court / daft farmer stuff (although I appreciate that is not the basis of selection for this award).

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    It’d be good to see some compelling reasons for people’s selections.

  • Mick Fealty

    Eddie,

    Sorry. Witty columnists might be part of it. But again we just want to get a feel for who’s doing a good job out there. Local papers are often the unsung heroes of the political scene. s.

    As before folks, just keep them coming!!

  • Harry Flashman

    The Derry Journal, it drives me nuts 85% of the time, has a tendency to make it seem like Derry (in comparison with Donegal) is a dreadful place but oddly it is very much in tune with its readership and gives the punters what they want twice a week, you can’t ask more from a local paper.

  • USA

    I would suggest the Andersonstown News does an excellent job for their community.

  • Eddie

    I’ve had a contribution deleted! – presumably for saying that it worried me that contributions (not mine) had been deleted for “negativity”. Seems a bit Stalinist to me.

  • Eddie

    I apologise to Mick. I wasn’t deleted after all. I’ve been looking at the wrong thread. Sorry.

  • bo shank

    impartial reporter for me, as part of my job i get to see most of the locals and for me this is one of the few papers that has proper journalism, proper features and measured opinion pieces. Good stuff.

  • Tochais Si­orai­

    The stewardship of Denzil Mc Daniel did a lot for the Impartial Reporter, it used to be a right old rag. I’d speculate that demographic changes in that part of the world played a role as well in making it a more ‘cross community’ paper.

  • The South Belfast News is a newspaper which is providing a great service to the communities in south Belfast. It has established itself as a great community asset in the area. Well done Maria McCourt and her colleague journalists – it also provides a platform for all political views.

  • Jake

    The Newtownards Chronicle has run some great stories in the past. They ran with them first that were then picked up by the big boys – most notably the BBC.
    It’s even sold in east Belfast!

  • I like reading local newspapers, they keep me in the know of the things that happened around me and that would affect my life. Now get a laptop, can get any news around the globe. But never dump the locals.

  • Mick Fealty

    OHP:

    Give us an idea for the long list…

  • RG Cuan

    Newry Democrat – superior design and layout to any local paper i’ve seen.