“Town Hall Pravdas” are in the news and anyone would think after reading some of the coverage that every council in the country is hell-bent on destroying the local press.
Politicians, lobbyists and the media have painted a misleading picture of council newspapers and magazines, implying that a handful of London Borough newspapers are typical of the rest of the country.
Two cheers for Eric Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, for at last reining in the tiny minority of councils who have launched full-scale free newspapers with local news, TV, Sudoku – and serious amounts of advertising.
Published weekly or fortnightly, they suck huge amounts of advertising from the local media and are nothing less than a full-frontal authoritarian attack on the independent press.
Unfortunately Mr Pickles seems to be tarring the entire council newspaper industry with the same brush. The overwhelming majority of council newspapers and magazines are perfectly sensible publications. They have no more sinister purpose than to let people know how their Council Tax is being spent and what services are available to them.
Most are published quarterly or bi-monthly, carry less than 10 per cent advertising and confine their coverage to council matters. They are no threat whatsoever to the local press. Most of the editorial is material newspapers do not carry.
These publications are necessary because local papers do not have the staff, the space nor the inclination to carry the amount of information councils need to get over to the public.
The days when reporters attended council committee meetings, diligently trawled through every minor agenda and report and wrote about every jot and tittle are long gone. Research showed newspaper managements that the public appetite for council information was limited, especially among younger readers, and so editors naturally switched coverage to other topics.
But council news doesn’t have to be boring, as many of these official newspapers and magazines are proving. They are generally well read and often appreciated by council tax payers. They are also a cost-effective substitute for leaflets – a great way of telling people about services.