Ed Walker looks at the different types of papers and reports released by councils in the UK and how these can lead to news stories. This is a detailed post with advice on how to organise your research and newsgathering, and when to use Freedom of Information requests to deliver more information.
Liz Asyan, a pHD student researching local government and citizen engagement online, has reproduced the answers she gave in an interview on Camden Council’s plans for using hyperlocal websites. Asyan is firm in her belief that local authorities using a hyperlocal strategy online will be “unofficial contributors” to the sites, but will leave them alone in the hands of citizens:
I do not see councils as “using” hyperlocal sites because they are not there to interfere nor moderate/own the hyperlocal websites. They hyperlocal websites belong to citizens and they are the “users” of hyperlocal websites. Councils are unofficial contributors to useful information that can help citizens within that particular area. So you can view councils as being just another member of that community sitting side-by-side with citizens, reaching out on citizens level without any barriers or judgements. This type of engagement will hopefully break down the barriers or walls that currently exist between councils and citizens and increase citizens trust towards local authorities.
Interesting to consider how such hyperlocal projects by local authorities will change the local media landscape and potentially their role as community media and publishers.
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.
This week some more stats can be added to the picture:
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.
“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.