Faith Focus: Keeping faith in the local press

Rev Peter Crumpler of St Paul's Church in Fleetville is supporting the work of the Herts Advertiser

Rev Peter Crumpler of St Paul's Church in Fleetville is supporting the work of the Herts Advertiser - Credit: Supplied

Rev Peter Crumpler, who is Associate Minister at St Paul's Church in Fleetville, has praised the Herts Advertiser for its role in sharing stories of the important work done by religious communities.

It’s so good to see MPs and Lords praising the vital role played by the Herts Advertiser and other local media in encouraging greater understanding of faith.

Parliamentarians have highlighted the positive role played by local media in reporting religion in a “balanced, nuanced and informative way.”

The praise formed part of a wide-ranging review of ‘religious literacy’ across press and broadcasting by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Religion in the Media.

They contrasted this sensitive grassroots coverage with the way faith is often reported in the national media.

I back the report’s praise and welcome the steps taken by the Herts Ad to cover a wide range of faiths, including the current Ramadan diaries.

But more generally across regional and local media, a divide still exists. Often, journalists are unaware of the rich source of news and feature stories that lie within local faith communities.

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And vicars, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders are either wary of their local media or unaware that the local newspaper or radio station would welcome hearing from them.

The resulting coverage often shows how faith plays an important part in the lives of many people. For Christians, for example, it showcases the positive difference made by churches in their local community.

The parliamentarians agree. They say, “Reporting on local religious festivals, community events and local charities can represent the lively reality of religious practice and experience in a way that is very difficult for national journalism to achieve.”

But the report also spells out the challenges to grassroots reporting. Advertising has been sucked away from local titles by the social media giants.

The MPs and Lords warn: “This loss of local, public interest reporting is deeply worrying. Not only does local journalism play an important social and democratic role, it fulfils a valuable function in representing religion and belief in an accessible and balanced way.”

Local matters. That has been one of the key lessons of the pandemic, as so many of us have been confined to our neighbourhoods.

If the local media is to survive, churches and other faith groups will need to join with others in valuing and supporting it.