Good news and bad news

by Sam Blackledge

IF there is one thing I have learned during my four years in journalism it is that people love a good moan.

Potholes, parking, traffic, trains – readers’ gripes are the bread and butter of local news, and we would be nowhere without them.

But what should our approach be when a good news story comes our way? Should we embrace the positives or be the voice of doom?

Earlier this month the London to Surrey Cycle Classic brought the towns of Dorking and Leatherhead, and several surrounding villages, to a standstill. Thousands of spectators lined the streets to watch 140 elite cyclists tackle the Olympic route.

Cyclists in Dorking High Street. Picture by Brian Hunter-Rowe.

For a fairly sleepy rural district this was a pretty big deal. It took a lot of planning by Surrey County Council, the Olympic organising committee, the police and various other bodies, all of whom came in for their share of flack on our letters page.

The main gripe was the road closures. We haven’t been told what’s happening, traders claimed. We will be prisoners in our own homes, residents complained. We even received a press release from a wildlife charity saying animals’ lives would be in danger.

As it turned out, the event went smoothly and was hailed as a success. But it raised some interesting questions about the role of a local newspaper.

On one hand we should absolutely be holding the authorities to account, questioning their methods and using our power to get the answers the readers cannot.

But with an event like this it is also our duty to celebrate our district, to promote the business opportunities it will create and to reflect the genuine excitement of the majority of residents.

We can’t win. But we will continue to try.

This piece has also been published by Fleet Street Blues.

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One thought on “Good news and bad news

  1. I always think you have to take a utilitarian point of view on these things, but I generally side with the events.

    Holding an event is ALWAYS going to inconvenience someone, but I always find that the enjoyment of those who attended, whether it be music, sport, drama or whatever, far outways their temporary and often very mean-spirited gripes.

    I remember reading with dismay about 50 or so residents living near Victoria Park who wanted to ban the Field Day festival because of noise pollution and yet thousands of people, myself included, have attended that festival and had an excellent day out. Yes, it’s inconvienient if you don’t like music, young people or life itself, but surely a day of annoyance is worth the enjoyment people would get out of it.

    A particularly mean-spirited example I heard was about a fun-day held by the Rainbow Trust, a charity for children with terminal illnesses for those who don’t know, in Leatherhead that had to be called off due to noise complaints from residents.

    There’s no easy answer to how to cover this as a local paper of course. The gripers will always be there and they will always want to complain, I guess it’s just a case of balancing their miserabilism with jubilation.

    PS – I live in East London. Will I be inconvenienced by the Olympics? Absolutely. Would I change it? No. If we want to talk about bringing a sense of community in this country let’s face the fact that sometimes we need to swallow inconvenience for the sake of someone else’s enjoyment.

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