Jeff Stelling supports Local Newspaper Week and the Hartlepool Mail

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TODAY marks the start of the Newspaper Society’s Local Newspaper Week.

A week in which newspapers such as the Hartlepool Mail celebrate all that is good about the local press.

With this year’s theme the importance of press freedom, we begin our coverage with an open message from the Newspaper Society itself.

THERE are 1,100 local and regional newspapers with 1,600 websites in the UK.

In print, local papers are read by 31 million people a week and 62 million unique users visit local newspaper websites every month.

Web traffic to our websites has grown rapidly in recent years, increasing by a third in the last two years alone.

Demand for local news and information has never been higher, with more people accessing it than ever before through printed local newspapers, their sister websites, smartphones and tablets.

What these millions of people have in common is that they place extremely high value upon the trusted local news and information provided by local papers.

They trust their local paper to report accurately and fairly on the issues that matter most to their lives.

Reporting on important events isn’t always as easy as it might appear.

Often, “news” is information that a person, public body or private business doesn’t want you to read about.

Something may have gone very seriously wrong with consequences for, or an impact upon, the wider community.

We believe passionately that you have the right to be kept fully informed about what is happening.

But getting to the truth isn’t always easy and is certainly not something that should be taken for granted.

Sometimes those involved in an important news event will seek to influence the way events are reported and try to ensure that they come out in a positive light.

Our job is to cut through the smokescreens and get to the true facts of the matter.

It can involve asking hard questions of people who may do almost anything to avoid giving a full and frank answer.

Sometimes it requires persistence and a willingness to stand by what you know to be right in the face of criticism.

But we don’t let evasive answers, unreturned phone calls – and, sometimes, outright lies - prevent us from seeking to publish the truth.

This is what press freedom truly means. Our right to responsibly seek out the true facts on your behalf and present them in a fair, accurate and balanced way.

Without this our democracy, and with it the basic freedoms we all enjoy, would be vulnerable to abuse by the rich and powerful, and those with vested interests to serve.

Defending press freedom is about defending our basic rights as citizens and we believe passionately that they are of fundamental importance to us all.

Later this week: How the Mail uses its freedom to inform you about stories you may not otherwise learn about.