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Editors urged to highlight newspapers' public role

Local and regional newspaper editors are being urged to provide examples of how they have held public bodies to account in a bid to highlight the industry’s “vital” public role.

This year’s Local Newspaper Week, on the theme of ‘Your Voice’, will focus on the importance of independent local journalism in sustaining democracy.

As part of the week-long event, which will take place from 10-16 May, editors are being encouraged to provide examples of hard-hitting investigative journalism, coverage of courts, councils and other public bodies, and influential campaigning work which their papers have undertaken.

The Newspaper Society, which organises the annual showcase, hopes it will remind politicians and other opinion-formers of the need to retain a thriving local media industry.

Its communications director Lynne Anderson said: “Local Newspaper Week is an annual event which highlights the importance of local media to the communities it serves.

“This year, the focus is upon local media’s unique and vital role in providing scrutiny of public bodies and holding them to account on behalf of readers.

“Local media shines a spotlight on important issues and events that might otherwise go unnoticed because, unlike other media, it covers local courts, meetings of councils and other public bodies.

“The ‘Your Voice’ theme of this year’s Local Newspaper Week aims to highlight this vital work which forms the foundations of democracy.”

The move comes amid mounting concern in the industry over the impact of council-run publications.

In a House of Lords debate earlier this week, ministers again came under pressure to “stop passing the buck and take some decisions” on the issue.

One peer, Lord Luke, asked: “Does the minister believe that newspapers produced by councils should have to be clearly distinguishable from commercial newspapers so that the public are not misled as to the independence of the reporting?

“Is the minister concerned that if council-run papers replace their independent counterparts, it will lead to a less rigorous scrutiny of local officials at the price of democracy?”

Speaking for the government, Lord Davies said that while local authorities had a right to communicate effectively with their local communities, when they strayed into being supported by advertising which would otherwise be available to local media then “an element of unfair competition might come in.”

He described local media as “a lynchpin of local democracy” and reassured the debate that “the government are fully seized of the financial and economic challenge to local and regional press.”


Observer (26/02/2010 09:01:27)
Great sentiment. But please, take a look at the local media and see how little reporters go out and actually see what local government is up to. It’s impossible on skeleton staff when the only aim is to fill up gaps. Count the number of PR stories to see exactly how it is.

hackette (26/02/2010 09:45:46)
Observer is spot on.
Perhaps the Newspaper Society will take up the matter of the pathetic staff levels on most local papers.
In a newspaper world run by number crunchers democracy needs staff (even in a recession) and that is a stake through the heart of paper management.
Papers are indeed full of council press releases that papers are too lazy(busy)to even re-write.
Some local politicians have capitalised on this, getting editors to regularly use hopelessly biased articles with no political balance.
The other side of the coin is that the modern cabinet style of councils makes meetings far less interesting to cover.

richard meredith (26/02/2010 16:28:50)
100 per cent agree with Observer, Hackette and no doubt the thousands of others who feel it’s time to stand up and be counted on our dimishing role as public guardians. Editors, why not make this 10-16 May event a campaign week? It’s more than time to tell your readers what’s going on. Get out of the pram, engage the people who can get something done, start shaking a few trees…