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Editor hits out at ‘taxpayer-funded publishers’ bypassing regional press

John Wilson HerefordAn editor has shared his fears over public bodies becoming “taxpayer-funded publishers” and bypassing the regional press.

John Wilson, who edits the Hereford Times, has warned of the “worrying implications” of organisations such as local councils choosing not to send press releases directly to journalists.

John, pictured, has spoken out after Bristol City Council announced it will no longer be emailing “traditional press releases” to news titles, opting instead to solely publish announcements on its own website and social media channels.

The authority, which is currently embroiled in a press access row, has claimed the move is part of a “digital first approach to sharing news” and believes it will “be able to reach more people” by increasing its own digital readership.

According to John, the Times itself no longer receives police press releases as a matter of routine.

In a personal blog on the issue, he wrote: “This trend for public sector organisations to become taxpayer-funded publishers in their own right has worrying implications.

“It accelerates the already well-developed deterioration of the independent media’s role as a one-stop shop for information about local life.

“But more importantly, in seeking to build a direct relationship with the recipients of its services an organisation can more easily exclude third parties such as the media who provide crucial scrutiny of its decisions.

“The tide of digital transformation of communications is not about to turn. Non-media organisations have become serious players in the news businesses.

“As the originators of information of public interest they will almost always be the first with breaking news online, and on the social networks.

“But newsrooms will survive and prosper in this environment by staying true to trusted journalism and employing digital savvy.”

John went on to list the ways in which newsrooms can counter such policies, urging journalists to:

– Explain issues more coherently with clearer, more compelling writing, providing relevant context and analysis.
– Scrutinise decisions, including those making them and their motivations for doing so.
– Make best use of digital storytelling tools and ceaselessly explore the efficacy of emerging social platforms.
– Engage more deeply with their own audiences, building mutually beneficial relationships based on trust, loyalty and empathy.
– Editorialise more boldly when the cause demands, rallying communities and causes around their brands.
– Develop newsletters and social media groups focusing on specialist areas and offering expert insight.

He added: “So let’s not mourn the vanishing era of the press release… it has, after all, never been a great way to do journalism.”

The News Media Association has also criticised Bristol City Council’s new policy.

In a statement, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith described the move as “dangerous and undemocratic”.

He added: “Councils should not seek to close themselves down to public scrutiny via the media in this way.”