For anyone following the ongoing row over council ‘newspapers’, this week has brought out issues which get to the heart of the matter.
Leaving the question of revenue aside for a while, the argument essentially goes like this;
The editors: We provide fair, accurate and, most importantly, unbiased coverage of what goes on in the local corridors of power.
Peter Barron’s column admitting to feeling a “warm glow” on reading about the Cornish county council scrapping its free monthly magazine summarises well.
The councillors: Local papers don’t provide a suitable level of coverage and are only interested in knocking stories.
Darlington councillor Nick Wallis’ broadside on the “one-eyed nature of the local press” sums this view up neatly.
But what of the readers? Are they getting the important information on decisions taken in their names in town halls across the country – from either source?
Some of the responses to Roy Greenslade’s article on the subject make for uncomfortable reading:
“I agree with Roy in theory, but in practice my local paper is unreadable and full of syndicated crap.
“And incidentally, the ‘pillar of democracy’ argument rings a tad hollow when you have five local papers and the press desk at council meetings is still sometimes empty,”
“I don’t buy my own local newspaper in this part of London because it’s very downmarket – it hasn’t responded at all to the changing demographic of the area”.
etc. etc. you get the picture and as HoldTheFrontPage has also pointed out to me, there’s more comments in the same vein on their posting here.
Which has left me wondering what the truth of the situation is. Personally I’d consider it a serious attack on democracy if the idea of ‘matter of record’ ends up becoming too unsexy to be worthwhile in the very publications we rely on to be our eyes and ears in the community.
Previously the bedrock of any local paper’s coverage, it would be interesting to know how many pages the average local paper now devotes to such reporting and what measures are in place to ensure it isn’t now put at risk by diminishing resources and office-bound reporting staff.
Maybe the power of the interwebs could be harnessed to carry out a snapshot survey of exactly what council coverage is currently being published in local papers.
A survey could work in the manner of a meme, with bloggers across the UK picking one day (or week if the enthusiasm for this is there) and looking at their local paper to quantify how many page leads, picture stories, single columns etc. deal with local authority decisions.
If you’d like to join me on something like this, let me know via the comments below.