Five Minutes With...Kath Finlay - Journalism has never been so important

Kath Finlay has just retired after four decades as a local and regional journalist, including spells at the Doncaster Free Press as News Editor and Deputy Editor.

Monday, 30th November 2020, 4:15 pm

Latterly she was Head of Advanced Content Hub North for jpimedia working with a large portfolio of titles, including The Star, Yorkshire Post, Lancashire Post, Sunderland Echo and The Scotsman.

Kath lives in Doncaster. Here’s what she had to say.

Old habits die hard so the first thing that I do every morning is to catch up on the news world, national and local.

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Kathleen Newton

When I started my working life there were a limited number of options to keep on top of current affairs: three national TV channels, a handful of radio stations, a brace of national newspapers and your local rag.

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Fast forward 40 years and there are myriad ways that you can find out the latest on the only talking point in 2020 - the Covid 19 pandemic.

In so many ways it’s great; all the news, as it happens anywhere in the world on your phone or at the click of a mouse. More ordinary people are able to share their views. Access to information has improved.

Covid19, coronavirus signs

But as we are now understanding, online “news” can be a minefield for the unwary: misinformation, scaremongering and downright lies are commonplace. Marketing is confused with journalism.

Back to the pandemic. The sheer volume of “information” has left me - and others - reaching for the off button. We’re over-faced with data, expert views – often contradictory - and opinion presented as fact.

Who thought it was a good idea to start the Prime Ministerial Press Conference that announced the last national restrictions with a slide deck showing reams of complex data with barely any commentary? We’re not all data scientists, we need some explanation of the statistics so we can understand what’s going on. And that’s where journalists come in. There was a time not so long ago that journalism as a profession was being written off. it is clear that the job is more vital than ever, not least of all to interrogate the endless stream of “information”around the pandemic.

There is an old adage in journalism: news is something that the powers that be don’t want us to know.

Sandall Beat Woods

It is vital that journalists are out there are asking questions, holding power to account, shedding a light in dark places and telling the stories of ordinary people.

And the best way to make sure you stay well-informed and have an accurate picture of what is happening in your area is still the same as it was 40 years ago - through the trusted journalism of local papers and now, their websites. Journalism costs of course, but a couple of pounds spent on a newspaper subscription is money well spent. The pandemic may be global, but it has certainly led to me thinking more locally. Forty years ago Doncaster was a bustling town with a strong economy thanks to King Coal. When that bubble burst, I witnessed the borough struggle through recession to emerge as a strong, forward-thinking place building for the future and welcoming a range of new businesses. That resilience is evident once more in the way in which small businesses have not been defeated but have quickly adapted to continue to serve customers and stay afloat.

Coffee shops have switched to take away and deliveries, local shops are back to doorstep deliveries as they did decades ago and click and collect with most harnessing the benefits of technology in the battle.They deserve to succeed.

Doncaster Christmas lights

It seems unlikely that our high streets will be the same ever again as big name retailers fall victim to the pandemic but Doncaster is ahead of the game with efforts to create a town centre that does not solely rely on retail. We look forward to a new museum and library next year along with a town cinema. Let’s hope that the support is made available for them, and Cast theatre, to survive. There’s new town centre housing too, meaning people can live, work and play in the same place.

Doncaster may not boast the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales, but there is much to enjoy. Over the last few months, I’ve massively appreciated being able to walk in one of the most beautiful ancient woodlands, Sandall Beat Wood, and experience it through the changing seasons. I’ve explored the miles of off-road cycle routes and quiet lanes; a particular favourite is the southern section of the Doncaster Greenway. I’m also lucky enough to be able to walk or cycle to Potteric Carr. And as we head into a very different festive season this year, it has been lovely to admire the twinkling Christmas lights which this year more than ever seem to symbolise some hope for the future.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.