I've looked twice now, and a couple of other people have looked and it's just not there....
- The letters page in South Manchester's celebrated and long-running weekly newspaper 'The South Manchester Reporter' is absent from this week's edition. Time will tell whether or not this is just a one-off, in fact I will contact them to find out. There was definately a letters page last week as the Green Party's Gayle O'Donovan had a letter published. If this is really the end of the readers letters page, it marks the end of an era, as well as another step in the general decline of local print media. For years the letters page has been a highlight of the paper, a vibrant reflection of the area's dynamic and sometimes contentious political intrigues. Indeed the Reporter and I go back a long way, and I have letters on that page on a number of occasions over the past 20 years.
Even in the SMR's parent paper, the Manchester Evening News, adverts are encroaching onto the letters page, and it is often tucked away near the back of the paper and hard to find.
Of course there is now an online alternative. Every newspaper and broadcast organ has its website, and its corresponding 'Have your say' slot. However, even in this day and age not everyone has or wants an Internet connection, and if reader's letters disappear from the print medium, those people will lose their voice. Also, and at the risk of sounding snobbish, the composing of a letter usually involved a degree of thought; the quality of 'Have your Say' type comments leaves much to be desired.
Print media in general is struggling, with weak advertising revenue in the wake of the recession, and the increased use of the Internet. It may surprise some people to see a Green defending the continued use of the 'dead-tree' format of news publication. It may also surprise people to know the environmental impact of the Internet - indeed the carbon impact of Internet servers is comparable with aviation, and is growing even faster - see here). Apart from that, traditional local newspapers have had important roles in keeping the community informed and keeping local politicians and councils on their toes.
However the ability of papers in the Manchester area to fulfil that role has declined. The Guardian Media Group enjoys almost total control over the print media in the conurbation. Increasingly in thrall to business interests, it cut 70 editorial jobs and centralised its news operations earlier this year, weakening the reporting in the surrounding boroughs and suburbs. For earlier Manchester Green Party comment see here
The recent departure of MEN editor Paul Horrocks to set up a media consultancy may also be a sign of the times.