Government plans help and hinder local papers

Meanwhile, over at the Department of Communities and Local Government, the government is intervening in one aspect of the crisis facing local papers – the competition posed by council newspapers.

In June, with characteristic candour, Communities minister Eric Pickles called the freesheets distributed by councils in their local areas ‘town hall Pravdas’, suggesting they wasted taxpayers’ money and undermined a free press. The government plans to revise the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity – the statutory guidance for local authority communications – to restrict what councils can publish.

Unsurprisingly, the bodies representing councils argue that council newspapers complement rather than compete with local newspapers. LG Communications condemned the government’s decision, saying that council papers fill the ‘growing information gap’ left by poor local reporting.Research published by the Local Government Association last year found that council publications contained information about local services rather local news.

With the jury out about how big a threat council papers pose to local journalism, it’s hard to say whether this change in policy will benefit the independent press.

But a second government measure is likely to worry local papers, along with the trade press, whose revenues are also dependent on adverts for jobs in the public sector. In July, Pickles announced plans to oblige councils to place job adverts online as a way of driving down costs. One organisation’s cheaper advertising is another organisation’s falling advertising revenues …

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