Council-run newspapers have come under fire again – this time from the editor of Media Week.
In a leader article headlined ‘The undesirable impact of council-run freesheets’, Steve Barrett takes the publications to task over their selective reporting of news on their patches.
He draws attention to ‘H&F News’, the title published by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which covers the same area as Steve’s own local newspaper, the Hammersmith and Fulham Gazette.
Steve said: “The splash in the Trinity Mirror paper outlines concerns about a dangerous road in Shepherd’s Bush where two children have been knocked down recently, prompting a petition to Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
“There is no mention of this in the council paper, which has a puff piece about the council extending after-school care across the borough on its front page, one of many plugs for council initiatives throughout the paper.”
The topic of council-run papers continues to cause grievance among many newspaper editors, particularly as some local authorities are using their own titles for public notices therefore denying papers vital advertising revenues.
In March, culture secretary Andy Burnham told the Scarborough Evening News some councils were “overstepping the mark” by publishing the papers.
But two weeks later, the Local Government Association defended local authority newspapers, saying they were not designed to supplant the traditional press.
Steve added: “Council-run competitors are a factor forcing local papers to cut resources to make their products viable commercially, which has a knock-on effect on quality and coverage.
“The council product feels more ‘local’ because its resources are concentrated on Hammersmith and Fulham, not spread thinly across two large boroughs.
“But I doubt you’ll ever see a story in it criticising the way the area is run.
“If it eventually puts the Gazette out of business, it will be a sad day for local democracy – and a sad day for the future of local newspapers.”