Newspapers and their dependence on council advertising revenues

Owl says: Recent research and Freedom of Information requests revealed that around 90% of EDDC’s advertising budget goes to Archant titles (Midweek Herald, Sidmouth Herald, Exmouth Journal), up to 5% with Express and Echo and up to 5% to View from … titles.

Most major controversial or contentious news stories involving EDDC seem to emanate from the Express and Echo and View from … titles (though the Daily Telegraph revealed the explosive story of disgraced ex-Councillor Graham Brown’s conflicts of interest on its front page in March 2013).

“853 exclusive: Greenwich borough’s newest local paper scrapped its news coverage after Greenwich Council objected to “negative” stories and considered withdrawing its advertising, sources have told 853.
The free Greenwich Weekender launched in May this year after publisher Southwark Newspaper successfully bid for a contract to carry the council’s public notices – official notifications about planning applications, traffic restrictions and other council functions.

Public notices used to appear in the council’s own weekly, Greenwich Time, which closed in June 2016 after government restrictions were put on “council Pravdas”.

33,500 copies of the what’s-on paper are delivered door-to-door across Greenwich borough, with a further 8,500 available at collection points across the area.

As well as covering culture and leisure items, early editions of Weekender devoted space to straight news stories, following a template set by its sister paper in Lambeth. Ahead of its launch, reporter Kirsty Purnell made contact with local community groups to introduce herself and get stories.

An editorial introducing issue one, signed by managing directors Chris Mullany and Kevin Quinn, promised “local news, town hall events and all your community events and campaigns”. And Purnell’s efforts paid off, with Weekender featuring many stories missed by other outlets.

But this didn’t go down well with Greenwich Council.

The first edition gave space to people concerned about Greenwich Council’s plans to redevelop the old Woolwich covered market and neighbouring buildings. Later editions saw traders in Greenwich Market get space for their fears over business rates, while residents in Woolwich grumbled about council staff taking their parking spaces. …

In short, Greenwich Weekender was doing the job of a proper local paper. Indeed, it even planned to run columns from local political leaders, again echoing a feature in Lambeth Weekender. Hartley was among those approached, but the columns never apeared.

This website understands leading figures in the council were angry about the paper covering “negative” news stories – and were also unhappy about Efford’s coverage in the paper during June’s general election campaign.

A proposal to scrap Greenwich Weekender‘s ad contract – which would effectively close the paper – was discussed. But councillors voted down the measure at a meeting of the council’s Labour group in mid-June, which is said to have descended into a “huge row”. One idea discussed was to place the ads in the London Evening Standard instead, 853 has been told.

Instead, it was decided that the council would tell Weekender to stop covering news stories.

News stories disappeared from the title at the end of June, and the only “news” in Greenwich Weekender – which still bills itself as “an independent weekly newspaper” – since have been advertorial pieces paid for by Greenwich Council. …

The three-year Greenwich Weekender deal is worth up to £1.2 million to Southwark Newspaper. It also means the paper can be distributed from libraries and other council-affiliated locations.

But in the council report recommending taking up the contract, it said it wanted its public notices to be “published… in the context of engaging local editorial content which helps to positively inform local residents about the measures that their neighbours and local service providers are undertaking to make the borough a great place to live, work, learn and visit”.

It would appear that Greenwich Council believes this means snuffing out scrutiny of its actions in any outlet that carries its ads. …

Greenwich’s newest local paper drops news coverage after council pressure

One thought on “Newspapers and their dependence on council advertising revenues

  1. Democracy depends on a free press for its validity, the so called “fourth estate”, a free press which can inform the public about the council’s actions and create transparency and hence accountability.

    So any attempt by any council (whether Labour like Grenwhich or Conservative like East Devon) to stifle news reporting just because it is critical – or worse still only potentially critical – about its policies or actions can only be called anti-democratic, and the councils concerned should be ashamed of themselves.


Comments are closed.