Friday, 10 April 2009

Councillor says council paper is 'threat' to press

Interesting post on Local Government Association website from a local councillor commenting on the LGA's submission to the OFT which claims council publications are "not a threat" to local press.
Coun. Barbara Matthews posted: "Certainly our publication in Havering (called 'Living') has proved a great threat to our local newspaper (The Romford Recorder). It is produced fortnightly and now includes public notices rather than paying to have them printed in the local paper. As a local councillor, there have been a more than a few times when I have been at odds with our local paper's headlines, but it is the only borough-wide independent scrutineer and it is sad that our council prefers to go into competition with it rather than work with it. "
Council publications no rival to local press.


Steve said...

Councillor Matthews needs to think about whose side she is on.

That of local residents - for whom she should be thinking about providing value for money by placing their adverts in their in house newspaper, as well as keeping them informed of the council's actions.

Or that of a private buisness that is there to make a profit for its shareholders.

Local papers have seen councils as a cash cow in recent years - believing they had a devine rate to charge them over inflated prices for public notices, whilst slamming the very same councils for "wasting money" in other areas.

Publishers cant have it both ways.

yet here again I'm afraid Jon you are publishing a very flawed argument.

council papers becoming more frequent requires more print to be done - and guess who on the whole is carrying out the printing...yes the newspaper groups that are squealing.

this is just an attempt to secure more government money to boost profits when local newspaper groups should start tuning into what their readers want rather than just turning out turgid crap for the sake of selling advertising

Jo Wadsworth said...

Steve, you make some interesting points, particularly about the profit margins of the big newspaper groups. But I would like to come back on a two or three of them which I completely disagree with.

It's true councils have a value to provide best value, and providing adverts in a house newspaper is, in the most basic sense, the obvious way to do that. However, I would argue that the consequence that this furthers the demise of their most effective local watchdog should override the need for best value in this case. The equivalent would be a council employing its own ombudsman because it was a cheaper way of investigating complaints.

You also say council newspapers keep local residents informed of the council's actions. From the council publications I've read, they're good at keeping readers informed of services - but there is absolutely no debate over how taxpayers' money should be spent, no real two-way communication with readers, no hint of holding councillors to account, and so therefore they earn their reputation as Pravda papers - i.e. publications which fall some way short of truly keeping residents informed of the council's actions.

Finally, there is an inherent contradiction in your last post. Why would papers turn out "turgid crap" for the sake of selling advertising? Advertising depends on a large readership, which itself depends on papers publishing the opposite of "turgid crap" - i.e. news which interests and engages the community. And at the moment, I don't think there is any doubt outside council press offices as to who is doing the better job of that.

Steve said...


Interesting points - but not really based on any facts.

By comparing local newspapers with an ombudsman you did make me laugh though.

Local newspapers have no powers to hold papers to account - as that is not their role.

They are there to make money!

Local government has an ombudsman. His role is not to print papers and make money out of it.

Nor does he/she expect - to keep you analogy going - to be kept in a job by proceeds from the very councils he/she is there to rule on.

If local papers are really going under just on the basis of loosing ads from councils - their business cases really cant be that strong!

As to my comment on "turgid crap" I stand by it.

The real reason local newspapers are failing is that they are not grasping the threat of the internet.

Why wait for a weekly paper to come through your door (if you are lucky) when you can google local news 24/7.

Many local papers have not responded to this situation. A few like the News Shopper have.

But to ignore the reality of how people source their news in ever increasing numbers nowadays - and instead to try and blame the demise of local papers on a few council publications is to be honest completely ludicrous!