Archive | September, 2010

The demise of council publications – maybe?

29 Sep

There is an incredibly vocal debate in the media about council publications and the role they have to play in the demise of the local press. Yesterday, the Guardian reported government’s plans to “crackdown on council-funded newspapers” yet I can’t help but feel some important arguments have been missed out of the discussions.

I accept that there are some councils who really are head-to-head with the local press and publish weekly newspapers, however, they are the minority. There has been much discussion about why we shouldn’t have council-funded publications, but what about the reasons why we should?

Money is tight

As budgets shrink, councils are under increasing pressure to demonstrate value for money whilst keeping their residents informed. It can cost in excess of £1000 for a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper. Is that how we should be spending public money? Maybe. But, if it’s more cost effective to print a council publication isn’t that what we should be doing?

Coverage can be patchy

In many areas there isn’t one sole newspaper that covers everywhere. For example, there are four prominent local newspapers in Monmouthshire that cover fairly seperate sections of the county. Advertising in just one newspaper would exclude others but advertising in all would be very expensive. If a council publication could reach the whole county and everyone had access to the information, is that what we should be doing?

Duty to inform

There’s only so much information a local newspaper can carry about the council before it begins to look and feel like it’s a council publication anyway. For the hundreds of services that a council provides, how do we raise awareness about them if we can’t get it all in the press. Social media and good old websites maybe? But what about those who don’t have access to a computer or the internet?

The new proposals suggest that council publications will not be able to carry any quotes from local residents that endorse the council or its’ services. The first thing I do when I want to buy/try something new is ask people’s opinion. Have you done it? What did you think? If it’s a genuine comment, good or bad, and the resident is happy to make their feelings known then what’s the problem?

Of the proposed rules, there is one I completely agree with: all content must be totally straight and fair. We should be open and honest. Though honesty is not just a rule for council publications, it should be one for the press too.

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