Party political wraparounds are a “good sign” that politicians want to use the local press to engage with voters, a digital publishing chief has claimed.
Trinity Mirror Regionals digital publishing director David Higgerson has spoken out in the ongoing debate over Conservative Party advertisements which appeared on the front of many local papers last week.
While a number of editors who published the advert have since defended the editorial neutrality of their titles, a group of Westmorland Gazette readers are petitioning the paper to apologise for running it.
The National Union of Journalists has also waded into row, calling on publishers to do more to protect the “editorial integrity” of their titles.
But, on his personal blog, David wrote: “In a way, the fact that the Tory wrap is making a noise in 2017 is proof that the ad is doing its job.
“Does it challenge the independence of newspapers? No. Does it represent newspapers ‘selling their soul’ as one of ex-editor suggested on Twitter? No. Is it a good sign that a political party, after several elections of largely ignoring the regional press, are looking at us as a way to communicate with voters once again? I would argue yes.
“The real election story of last week for the regional press was created in town halls, sport centres and function suites up and down the country.
“In many cases, we were the only media representatives there to witness seats being won, seats being lost, guards being changed and political careers beginning or ending.”
However, National Union of Journalists acting general secretary Séamus Dooley has urged editors and publishers to take steps to “protect the editorial integrity of their titles” in the wake of the row.
He said: “Journalists on local newspapers are gravely concerned at the blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising. There has been a strong backlash from readers as a result of wraparound advertising purchased by political parties and presented in a news format.
“The advertising is clearly designed to convey the impression of a news story and incorporates the paper masthead. There is a long, proud tradition of clearly differentiating between news and adverting, even in newspapers which adopt a partisan editorial line, and that principle should not be abandoned.
“Party political advertising is a legitimate feature of campaigning and there is no doubt that media organisations welcome the additional revenue. But, disguising advertising as news and effectively hijacking a newspaper masthead for any political party or candidate is an entirely different matter and is a cause of concern.
“The masthead should be a symbol of editorial independence and it is clear many readers, of all political persuasions and none, are opposed to this trend.
“Newspapers play an important role in shaping public opinion and can influence the outcome of an election. We will be monitoring the use of wraparound advertising very carefully and would ask editors and publishers to take steps to protect the editorial integrity of their titles.”