Must-read article in the London Evening Standard from Andrew Gilligan on council newspapers, which he describes as contributing to the death of local papers.
Gilligan highlights their free delivery and subsidised advertising rates, enabling them to survive at a time when local papers are cutting back staff.
He also focuses on the bias towards the ruling group on the council and their activities, giving the East End Life from Tower Hamlets, Greenwich Time for Greenwich and H&F News for Hammersmith and Fulham as examples: "In H&F News, it is the Labour Party that does not exist and the Tory councillors who get all the quotes...In H&F News, crime is nearly always falling, even when it isn't."
The article reports an outrageous comment by Tower Hamlets' head of commercial operations, Chris Payne,regarding the council removing East London Advertiser display boards at a Sheffield forum.
Chris Payne claimed that local papers "churn out a negative diet of crime and grime, often attacking their local council and generally creating a negative impression" while council papers "help create a positive place-shaping agenda, talking up an area and its residents' achievements, celebrating diversity and opportunity for all".
East End Life, when public sector advertisments are included, cost taxpayers £1.1 million in 2008. The paper's reporters, unlike those from the East London Advertiser, were allowed to cover the most recent borough elections.
Roy Greenslade is a fan of the Andrew Gilligan article, saying "This is why independent publishers and editors call council papers the Pravda press."
Greenslade wrote about H&F news last week, contrasting the difference between their coverage of a West Kensington development with the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle's.
Personally I agree with Andrew Gilligan and Roy Greenslade that these council papers are a waste of taxpayers' money, a danger to objective journalism and a way for the councils to make themselves look good.
More needs to be done to oppose this use of taxpayers' money.
Perhaps a demonstration outside your local council offices where people push copies of the council paper through their letterbox, while the media film.
I'd welcome suggestions on how to get a campaign going.
In the meantime, I'll keep putting the Waltham Forest News in the recycling box unopened, and I'll keep reading the Waltham Forest Guardian.