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Editor talking “nonsense” over ad blackout says council

A county council has launched an astonishing attack on a weekly newspaper editor over claims that it introduced an “advertising blackout” on the title following a critical story.

South Wales Guardian editor Mike Lewis claimed it had lost out on £9,000 of advertising from Carmarthenshire County Council since running a comment piece criticising the authority in September.

But in a strongly-worded statement issued today, the council dismissed the claim of an advertising blackout as “nonsense” and branding the paper’s editorial coverage as “biased and unbalanced.”

And it suggested that the Guardian spend more time trying to increase its circulation instead of “demanding to be subsidised with public money.”

In an editorial published earlier this week, Mike accused the council of acting like an “Eastern bloc state from the 1960s.”

It quoted council figures which showed that during the eight weeks between September 27 and November 21, the authority spent £9,551.69 in the county’s three newspapers, with just £224.99 or 2.3pc spent in the Guardian.

However the council has hit back saying it has not managed to establish any sort of relationship with the paper under Mike’s editorship.

It said there was “no obligation on the council to advertise in any particular newspaper” and said the Guardian was by far the least-read newspaper on its patch.

The council’s full statement reads as follows:

“We are astonished to have read so many incorrect statements on the front page of this week’s South Wales Guardian.

“It is nonsense to suggest that the council has introduced an ‘advertising blackout’ following recent publicity regarding a Sainsbury’s supermarket.

“Similarly the comments made regarding the Carmarthenshire News publication are equally wrong. It is not a council publication but is produced on behalf of a range of public sector organisations in the county including health, police, fire and rescue services, the University and College and the county association of voluntary organisations. The cost to the council is not £148,000 a year, as is claimed, or even a fraction of that sum.

“There is no obligation on the county council to advertise in any particular newspaper. Decisions on advertising are commercial and are taken based on the most effective and appropriate use of resources.

“When placing advertising we need to find the best value for money. We cannot simply spend taxpayers’ money with local newspapers to subsidise them and support their running costs. That would be a misuse of our funds.

“It is true that we might sometimes place an advertisement in one local newspaper but not others. We only have a certain amount of money for such purposes and the fact is that The Guardian has a far, far smaller circulation than its rival papers the Carmarthen Journal and the Llanelli Star.

“Surveys that we have carried out over the years show that it is the least widely read of the three local newspapers. In the most recent consultation, figures showed that 36% of people gained information from the Carmarthen Journal; 26% from the Llanelli Star; and just 11% in the South Wales Guardian.

“Maybe the Guardian’s energy would be better spent on trying to increase its readership rather than demanding that the county council advertises with the newspaper as if there were some entitlement to be subsidised with public money.

“It is true that, over the years, some of the editorial coverage in the Guardian has seemed to us to be biased and unbalanced. We are surprised that the newspaper has singled out a recent article as if it were an isolated incident.

“The truth is that this was but the latest in a long line of articles which we would feel did not present a full and honest picture.

“The county council has, in fact, made numerous complaints and had many discussions with the Editor and senior figures with the paper. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts we have not managed to establish any kind of working relationship with the South Wales Guardian under Mr Lewis’s editorship.

“We appreciate the value of local papers, and work with them as best we can, including the South Wales Guardian, and we continue to try to provide South Wales Guardian readers with information on services and developments.

“We send Mr Lewis press releases, photographs and information as we do all other media. We have even agreed to work with them this Christmas on a free parking initiative which will be promoted via their newspaper. A large part of the reason for this is to help local newspapers with their circulation, as well as shoppers and local traders by boosting trade.

“However, no business has an automatic right to have their customers money spent with them – and this applies to newspapers as much as to any other business.”


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  • December 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I was a journalist for more than a decade and a newspaper editor before going to the ‘Dark Side’ of public sector PR. We pulled all unnecessary advertising from our local newspapers a year ago for a number of reasons, including: massive drop in budget (any editor who can’t see this shouldn’t be working in journalism); the ineffectiveness of newspaper advertising (rates increase despite circulation dropping); using cheaper marketing methods such as social media, our own website, electronic newsletters, sending messages directly through employers and partner organisations’ internal communications. Admittedly it doesn’t help that many local newspapers give public sector services a kicking at every opportunity and often refuse to help spread positive messages through news items, instead demanding every story needs to be paid-for advertising (and, yes, as a former newspaper editor I know what makes a good story and yet these are still ignored by our main local newspaper unless we are prepared to pay for space). But editors really need to stop whining and recognise that the public sector is not there to subsidise newspapers. Build genuine relationships with your local public sector organisations and they may well be more receptive, if they have anything to spare in their budgets. Oh, and be smart enough not to try to rip them off (only when I moved to a public sector organisation was I able to come clean that it was standard newspaper practice to double the rates for any adverts from public sector organisations – shameful to do this to organisations such as local authorities and the NHS. The first thing I did in my new post was bring my local paper to task over this and negotiate for the rates I knew private companies were getting). The public sector is not a cash cow for failing newspapers.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    It pains me to say it, but I agree with a lot of what Newshound says. I’m not sure it’s really that wise to do your dirty washing in public like this in the first place. Presumably the Guardian expects to spend taxpayers’ money wisely, so they cannot exempt themselves from this.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    Agree, Newshound does make some good points, but he/she is talking nonsense on the advertising rates for public sector organisations.

    If a private company calls and asks the rate for a page, they will be told £x, which is the rate card price. They say ‘I’m not paying that’ and a negotiation takes place before settling on a cost.

    When a council/hospital/etc asks the rate, they are also told £x. They say ‘OK then’ and pay.

    You can’t blame newspapers when councils agree to pay higher rates. The councils should be employing people with the knowledge of the industry to make such decisions and not end up paying more.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    “…it [is] standard newspaper practice to double the rates for any adverts from public sector organisations…” – really??? I would love to know which publisher(s) ‘Newshound’ used to work for as I’ve never come across anything like this.

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  • December 13, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    As purveyors of pure nonsense on a daily basis, council press officers should be able to recognise it when they see it.
    But not in this case.

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  • December 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I would say Newshound that 99 per cent of council press releases are garbage, especially county council ones! And the end of newspapers means people will be fed a constant diet of that garbage, all good news of course! Then, maybe, the public will realise what it has lost!

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