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Monday, April 8, 2024

Social media means we’re losing our civic history

I was down in the Chronicle cellar last week gathering information for the two pages of old pictures we’ve been running in the absence of advertising over lockdown when something occurred to me: this could be the last generation to whom such old photographs are available.

That thought struck as I was looking at pictures of Woodhouse Middle School sports day, all the teams and all the names of the competitors. Several decades ago, that’s what it was like – newspapers were invited into schools to take photos of the kids any time they did anything.

All this means is that 30 or 40 years on, you can look at our old photos and say: “Oooo look at Ann, hasn’t she changed!” or “That’s not Reg, is it? He’s got hair!”

While some schools are excellent at their PR, it’s all very different today. Last week we have a page of pictures from Buglawton Primary School, complete with names, but they’re not our pictures ie taken by our in-house photographer, they’re submitted. In 40 years’ time, assuming we are still here, my successor (or even me) will not be able to reproduce them in the same way as we do now, because the copyright is not ours.

While we take some photos at most schools at some time, schools now generally put the photographs of smaller achievements out on social media, “Jack has raised £150 for charity” or “Gemma’s been picked for the county” but how many people see them, and what will happen to those tweets?

In 20 years’ time, Twitter etc won’t be here and all those photos will be gone, lost from the civic records.

People may say print is old-fashioned but at least we archive everything and it’s there as a permanent record should anyone want it. People do ask us for old photos – last week, I scanned in a week of negatives from 1964 for someone. This week, I’ve got to dig out some old sports photos from the 70s.

In 40 years’ time you’re going to struggle to search for #MySchoolSportsDay2021 and if our photographer didn’t attend, we won’t be able to help.

Even worse, as I was reflecting, is the “news” on social media.

Everyone expects to get their news for free nowadays and it’s the modern way – but what you get for free today is what you’ve always got for free, rubbish.

Most “news” on websites is either trivial nonsense with a headline designed as clickbait (ie you click on it and generate traffic for the website, whether or not you take one glancce at the “news,” realise it’s tosh and hit the back button), or bland Press releases put out by journalists under pressure to churn stuff out at minimal effort.

If there is a minor hold-up on a road, news outlets will get it straight online under the headline “traffic chaos hits —-” knowing people will read it, but proper community news barely gets a look-in. And none of the clickbait news will be of interest to anyone in 50 years’ time, any more than roadworks in 1971 are interesting now.

Obviously, the reason websites operate this way is because digital news doesn’t really pay and the only way they can hope to make a profit is to work as cheaply as possible using the most easily accessible news, but it’s not quality journalism.

I’ve always thought that one definition of news in local papers such as the Chron is news that no-one outside the town boundary is even remotely interested in (and a few people inside those boundaries, too). For this reason, local news doesn’t do well on the internet because it doesn’t export.

But it will be a loss to communities if someone doesn’t gather that community news for future local historians. In the meantime, enjoy our old archive photos: you may be the last generation that has them to appreciate.

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