There’s been much debate amongst regional and local newspaper representatives in the UK about the impact of local authority ‘newspapers’ or freesheets on their advertising revenue, role in the community and news coverage.
Yet much of this debate has been difficult to frame, with exact details of staffing numbers, cost and output of these publications varying between authority.
In London, Andrew Gilligan suggested that local authorities in the city employed more staff writers than the capital’s newspapers.
This week some more stats can be added to the picture:
Press Gazette reports that Tower Hamlets’ Borough Council paper, East End Life, will need an extra £400,000 of tax payers’ money to keep it going.
According to a mid-year budget report from the authority, the freesheet is suffering from a £396,000 shortfall in advertising for the current financial year.
Deputy leader of the council, Joshua Peck, reportedly told the East London Advertiser that this lack of ad revenue would be made up for with cuts to the authority’s communications budget.
Add to this HoldtheFrontPage’s report on the cost of East End Life, which states:
“A previous investigation by the Advertiser showed that public-sector organisations paid a total of £980,000 to advertise in East End Life, making the true cost to the public purse £1.1 million a year.
“An alternative budget put forward by Tory councillor Tim Archer earlier in the year suggested the council could save £670,000 or 1pc off the average council tax, by scrapping the paper and taking out advertising with the Advertiser instead.”
Elsewhere, plans for a new TV station launched by Carmarthenshire Council (link spotted via Jon Slattery’s blog) have come under criticism.
According to a report on thisissouthwales.co.uk, the station would cost £30,000 a year to run. In a move to fund the new station, the authority is planning to drop one of its bi-monthly news magazines, which currently costs more than £114,000 to produce and distribute.
Industry groups have called on the Audit Commission to investigate the impact of local council newspapers on the regional media industry, as part of the government’s recommendations to the commission in the Digital Britain report. But the commission said such an assessment should be made by the Office of Fair Trading.
The commission will however review all aspects of council communications including press offices, publications, websites and expenditure on advertising jobs.