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Council newspaper plans come under fresh scrutiny

A council’s plans to spend £100,000 launching a fortnightly newspaper are to come under further scrutiny.

HTFP revealed last month that Thurrock Council’s cabinet wanted it to join the growing list of UK local authorities running their own in-house newspaper about its services.

Now a member of the Essex council has called in the proposals, forcing a special debate on the issue to be held on Monday.

The Thurrock Gazette says the council includes in the budget up to £115,000 a year to cover salaries of staff on the newspaper, a significant increase on the existing £24,000 per annum budget for corporate publications.

Coun Carl Morris told the Newsquest weekly: “This is first time this crazy proposal will have been discussed in public – the cabinet made its decision in secret.

“The people I’ve spoken to just can’t believe Tory councillors want to waste at least £100,000 on a fortnightly council paper.

“There’s a legitimate place in Thurrock for a council publication but there is no place for a fortnightly propaganda sheet that’s a real threat to our existing newspapers.”

Gazette editor Steve Lewis told HTFP: “Obviously I welcome the moves from Coun Morris.

“The decision was originally made in private, so it’s good that it’s finally being discussed in public.

“Things are still a bit up in the air, but we are continuing to gather support against the proposals and will continue to fight them.”

A spokesman for Thurrock Council told HTFP: “Thurrock is no different to any other local authority in that we need to regularly review all of our activities including the council’s publications.

“We must ensure that residents are kept properly informed and abreast of developments.

“The council has produced a variety of publications for residents over the years and cabinet agreed in principle that there is a need to look into a new civic publication, as one has not been produced for some time.

“However, nothing has been decided with respect to the potential frequency and format of this.

“We will be looking at this in more detail now and are looking forward to discussing the issues and see what partnership opportunities there might be by working closer together.”


Onlooker (16/07/2009 11:21:54)
I deplore these council-run propaganda sheets. However, there are two sides to this. My own local paper is so short-staffed it barely covers council and court at all anymore. Even planning applications are just run in carelessly with possible stories contained therein just ignored or not even spotted by hard-pressed junior reporters covering a wide patch. So, sadly, council freesheets are more likely now to raise issues you might not know about.

Outlook (16/07/2009 15:23:53)
Onlooker has a point, but the information “you might not know about” won’t be presented in a fair and balanced way. It’ll be presented in a way which ensures the council gets to do what it wants with the minimum of fuss. there has to be another way

Alan (17/07/2009 09:30:21)
Council newspapers serve the council, not the public. Does anyone think they would give the front page with picture to a protest campaign against one of their flagship projects? Fairness and balance is not part of the council’s agenda when publishing its own newspaper (sic, very).

Louie (17/07/2009 13:30:18)
I’m an ex journalist and when I left newspapers I spent four years editing North Somerset Council’s magazine, North Somerset Life.
Let’s get one thing straight: council mags, newsletters, whatever you want to call them, are not designed as a replacement for the local Press. However, their rise in popularity has coincided with a sharp demise in the newspaper industry, so people are jumping on the bandwagon and saying councils are out to ruin local journalism, which is plain wrong. The publications exist to promote council services and values and are edited, by and large, by ex journalists like me who apply the same levels of balance they would have done for a Press story. I agree it’s unlikely a council mag would ever feature a protest on its front page, but not because it’s trying to suppress news, it just isn’t relevant to what the publication exists for. The reason so many councils are adopting this approach of communication is because it works, and has been proven to work. How many newspapers do you know which have carried out extensive customer satisfaction surveys to make sure what they’re publishing is what people want to read? Not many. Yet councils go to great pains to make sure their readership finds the content of these publications useful and informative. The point about how much these things cost is also, in my view, a nonsense. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find most are self-funding, or at least partly self-funded, through the various council services advertising with them rather than the local Press. By doing this they reach a larger audience for less money, saving taxpayers’ cash which would otherwise have gone to the local paper, which is what this is really about.

John Nevill (28/07/2009 14:24:51)
The residents of Thurrock should be grateful. Following a FOIA request I have discovered that Barking and Dagenham Council estimate their first year running costs (excluding £40,000 initial set-up costs) to be £600,000. Like Thurrock it is also a fortnightly publication – so presumably out-of-dated around 13 days before delivery but costing considerably more.