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“People will always be interested in their community’ - online debate looks at future of local news

PUBLISHED: 18:33 08 October 2020 | UPDATED: 05:23 10 October 2020

The first EDP front page printed in 1870 and how the newspaper looks in 2020. Pictures: Archant

The first EDP front page printed in 1870 and how the newspaper looks in 2020. Pictures: Archant

Archant

After a century and a half of reporting the news, what the future holds and the challenges of reporting a pandemic were amongst the topics of a special online debate.

EDP and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles. Picture: Steve AdamsEDP and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles. Picture: Steve Adams

To coincide with the 150th anniversary of the EDP, and as part of Journalism Matters week, the 45-minute online webinar, hosted by BBC Radio Norfolk breakfast show presenter Chris Goreham, saw Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles discuss a range of issues about the newspapers, websites, future plans and how reporting local issues will always be important to people.It comes on the back of one of the most challenging periods in this newspaper’s history as the coronavirus pandemic meant the newspapers had to be produced entirely from people’s homes for the very first time.

Mr Powles said: “I’d like to think that this is a year that has really shown the importance of what we do. The importance that we’re calm, reasoned and responsible in terms of what we publish.”

It had been a “tremendous challenge” to produce newspapers with people working entirely from home, but he added: “I’m really pleased that we managed to still put out the newspapers every day, hopefully newspapers that people really found informative and hopefully made them smile now and again.”

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The changing ways people consume news was raised, with after 140 years of producing the newspapers the last 10 to 15 years seeing things “rapidly change because of the emergence of online as such a massive media in terms of how people get their information, news and sport”.

Mr Powles said: “Our challenge is how do we keep up? How do we keep giving our audience the news, the analysis, the sport, in the ways that they expect to have it?

“It’s a well known fact that there are fewer people who are actually buying the hardcopy of the newspaper. What we haven’t seen fall I believe is the interest in what we do. It’s just that people’s habits have changed, people’s lives have changed and people expect that information in different ways.

“So we’ve had to look at how, how we really rise to that challenge.”

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a tremendous demand for that information that had been reflected in people visiting the websites, he added.

For most of its150 history the EDP, together with other local newspapers, were print only. Picture: ArchantFor most of its150 history the EDP, together with other local newspapers, were print only. Picture: Archant

“People were really coming to us in droves because they needed to know what was the latest Boris Johnson message, what does it mean for my community, what does it mean for my town.

“We took our role responsibly and really seriously because we had to get the messages right, not spread fear and panic, but we had to also be honest, and I feel, I hope, that we got the balance, right.”

Other issues raised by readers during the debate included spelling errors in stories, clickbait headlines, intrusive online adverts, and how eco-friendly were newspapers, and how comments are managed on stories

“Free speech is something that I really value,” said Mr Powles, adding: “We have a system in place where if someone’s gone over the line, then it is normally picked up by technology. But we have a system where it can be flagged up.

Today people access local news online on their computers, tablets or mobile phones. Picture: Getty ImagesToday people access local news online on their computers, tablets or mobile phones. Picture: Getty Images

“On the stories that perhaps we know are going to be a lot more potentially problematic, we will monitor them closely as well.”

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Another West Norfolk reader queried whether the EDP was too Norwich-centric, saying: “I often feel like I’m viewing my county through a long lens.”

“To try and make sure that every single day in print and online we’ve covered every single corner of every patch is a challenge,” said Mr Powles.

“We believe that the majority of people who read the EDP actually do have that interest in what happens in Cromer or what happens in Great Yarmouth. But does that mean that we couldn’t do better? No, it doesn’t.”

Chris Goreham, of BBC Radio Norfolk, who hosted the online debate, with EDP and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles and Head of News Ian Clarke. Picture: ZoomChris Goreham, of BBC Radio Norfolk, who hosted the online debate, with EDP and Norwich Evening News editor David Powles and Head of News Ian Clarke. Picture: Zoom

Asked what the next 150 year might hold for local news reporting, he added: “It’s just so vital that we stay relevant to readers. What I don’t see changing, and coronavirus has really proved this, is people still being really interested in what goes on in their county and their community.”


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