New award will recognise the good news in our area

Until quite recently, local media was something many of us took for granted. We bought our local papers and tuned into local radio and TV programmes to catch up on the news.

Technology has changed our everyday habits, making it easier to get the latest updates on our phones and tablets whenever we want.

But this advance has had the additional effect of taking a toll on a growing number of media outlets, particularly in print. However, it is encouraging that so many local newspapers and magazines remain in the Highlands and Islands, including the Scottish Provincial Press titles, among them the one you are reading just now.

We are also fortunate to have regional TV and radio stations, including those dedicated to those listening in Gaelic.

A strong local media is not just needed in any democratic society, it is vital and is part of the fabric of the communities they serve.

While the positive side of social media is its accessibility, speed and reach, its down side can be its lack of regulation, particularly regarding the dissemination of news. But it has also led to an increase in unchecked ‘facts’ and unsubstantiated comments entering the mainstream masquerading as news.

Good local journalism informs, educates and entertains. It also questions authority and holds to account public servants and others who influence our lives and surroundings. We don’t always agree with what we see and hear in newspapers, news websites, radio or television, and nor should we. But if the articles are fair, accurate and balanced they should be welcomed.

Journalists are trained to communicate with clarity and accuracy, to check facts and avoid bias. Local media in particular has a reputation for presenting impartial accounts, giving both sides of arguments, intervening with opinion when it feels strongly on an issue and not to favour a particular party, political or otherwise.

Inverness Chamber of Commerce believes a vibrant and challenging local media is important. Therefore, we are delighted to become a sponsor for the 2020 Highlands and Islands Media Awards which promotes and rewards excellence in local journalism.

For almost 30 years the awards have helped celebrate the work of local news gatherers and photographers, while helping to maintain and raise editorial standards in the industry.

Businesses turn to local media to highlight their successes and to be informed of developments – or perhaps lack of developments – that affect their operations. Local media reporting, commenting and campaigning can be influential in pressurising governments and other agencies into action and making the wider public aware of decision making and policy delivery that may affect the Highlands.

Without local coverage of concerns, it is unlikely issues would be picked up nationally and many campaigns would not get off the ground.

For the 2020 media awards, which will be launched next week, Inverness Chamber will sponsor a new category for Best Business Story of the Year. This will be open to any journalist based in the Highlands and Islands and has their work published or broadcast in print, online or on radio or television in the region.

The aim is to not just showcase good news businesses stories, but also to look at the area and ourselves more critically and perhaps reveal areas where we are not doing well and provide ideas for improvements.

I would encourage anyone involved in reporting on business to enter the award and it will be fascinating to see the response. Read or tune into your local media to find out more.