Saturday, 23 April 2011

Has the Cambridge Evening News turned over a new leaf ?

Local newspaper reporting is always on the Daily Mail end of the scale if you ask me. Designed to get people worried or angry and fist waving so much that readers feel compelled to write in to complain. I assume that by creating cattle prodding news from non stories people will buy the paper more regularly.

The Cambridge Evening News (circulation 21000) is no different. The bread and butter page filler is the the anti-cyclist story. So much so, I refuse to ever buy a copy of the daily paper, and I won't accept a copy of the weekly free version - Cambridge News and Crier - handed out in the streets for fear of increasing their circulation (57000). They do get me in a couple of places however, it drops through the letter box in Cottenham and I read stories on the website (259,000 unique visitors per month).

The website comments are where you find the depressing state of mind of some motorists. Almost any story with the word cyclist will always have comments about no lights at night, pavements and red lights. And those comments are not harmless - if I ever get overtaken dangerously, and if I can keep calm, I will tap on the window of a driver and try to have a civil discussion with them. Quite often I've had the you don't pay road tax and similar ill founded arguments replayed at me in some attempt to justify teaching me a lesson.

Over the last year I have noticed that local cyclists have got a lot better at defending their position, and immediately jump on any ill founded comments. I think it is working too - the road tax argument is definitely coming from less people when I read the comments. Similarly, arguments about danger and insurance are being countered and one day will get rarer. The latest online argument coming in from the sidelines is the cyclist holding up traffic is causing extra pollution (slaps forehead).

So, my thought process is that the CEN is anti-cyclist, but then I raise an eyebrow to the new Cycling Blog supplied by the Cambridge Cycle Campaign. Wow, space given over to a pro-cycling organisation.

I raised the other eyebrow when I saw that the front page had been given over to a helmet camera wearing cyclist, and in a fairly positive way too.

You can read the story, watch the video, and read the comments here: Video: Cyclists near misses caught on camera

There is also a follow up story on the website. Drivers hit back after cyclist's claims. Just to fan the flames of the the fake motorist-cyclist war.

I was thinking after seeing the new blog and the front page story that Cambridge Evening News was turning over a new leaf. But, alas, looking through older stories I think perhaps I was wrong in thinking they were anti-cyclist - they are not. The CEN are just happy to whip up a story in any way that will generate circulation and readers for their advertising, and I am feeding that troll.

Online news comments do seem to be one of the few places where motorists and cyclists will exchange views in a place away from the safety of discussion forums for like minded travellers. It's a shame that most news site comments are not threaded because they do not foster good discussion, just comment and exit which makes it difficult to follow up.

I urge all cyclists to comment online, it's important to, because online people's views are far less polite and more polarised, revealing the darker inner thoughts of a minority of motorists. When wrong, they need to be countered so those thoughts do not become acceptable to the majority.

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