Misleading headline about future of Sidmouth’s Drill Hall

The Midweek Herald website has an article entitled “Concerns over Sidmouth’s redundant Drill Hall site quelled”. On reading the article it will become patently clear that, far from being quelled, the future of the Drill Hall looks extremely insecure:

“… In June, community groups were given six months to make a bid for proposals to redevelop the site – they have until February 4, 2019.

Exeter-based agent JLL, which was appointed by East Devon District Council (EDDC), plans to open the bidding up to the commercial property sector in the Autumn, giving them three months to put forward a bid.

Two members of the public came forward at the latest Sidmouth Town Council meeting on Monday. Resident Di Fuller raised issues with there being no published criteria on what the bids would be judged on. While, resident Simon Fern spoke out about his fears that the owners of the Drill Hall (EDDC) will simply sell to the highest bidder.

District and Town Councillor David Barrett said: “It would be impossible for me properly discuss the details of that criteria until it is discussed in the forum that decides the criteria.”

He added that the forum was hoping to meet soon and that he believed they would be looking at the criteria then.

Town Clerk Christopher Holland said: “My understanding is that it isn’t this council that gets the final say on this, it is not even this council who will have a say on this as such. We are being consulted and that is about it.

“My understanding is that when the criteria has been agreed they will be made publicly available to everybody but that will be through the agent. It won’t be through us, it won’t be through EDDC. It will be through the appointed agent so that they are fair to absolutely everybody and that is commercial and community bids both. They have to be fair to everybody and treat everybody in exactly the same way. So approaching us or EDDC for other information is just not going to work, you have to deal with the agent.”


Are your fears quelled? Owl’s are not!

“‘Britain’s fearless and independent Press is one of the foundations of democracy and must be protected’: Minister’s call to save print media as 300 local papers shut”

Owl says: Well, some local papers might be fearless and independent- but others are fearful and political toadies – naming no names …!

“Britain’s ‘fearless and independent’ Press is one of the ‘foundations’ of democracy and must be protected, the Culture Secretary has warned.

Matt Hancock has spoken out in defence of journalism as figures released today reveal that more than 300 local and regional titles have closed since 2007 – meaning some large towns are left without a local newspaper.

There are also 25 per cent fewer full-time journalism jobs than there were in 2007, while a quarter of all regional and local publications have closed. …

… The figures released today are part of a report conducted by research group Mediatique and commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

It found that the newspaper industry has been under ‘sustained threat’ for the past decade – with print advertising slashed in half since 2007.

The Mediatique report found that the ‘dramatic changes’ in revenue and number of publications had been fuelled by shifts in consumer behaviour – and the reliance on devices such as phones and tablets.

Figures by Mediatique revealed that there were 1,303 regional and local newspapers in 2007 compared with 982 in 2017.”


“Decline of local journalism threatens democracy, says May”

In East Devon we had two local newspaper publishers: “View from … ” titles – a campaigning newspaper which recently closed and Archant (Midweek Herald and Journal titles) which basically mostly prints press releases from EDDC and elsewhere almost verbatim and pads them with anodyne articles, often linked to advertisers.

It is left now to bloggers such as Owl and campaigning Facebook groups (such as Save our Sidmouth and Save Exmouth Seafront) to use local sources to root out the stories Archant chooses not to print. Local campaigning newspaper journalism in East Devon is therefore pretty much on its last legs.

“The decline of local journalism is a threat to democracy and is fuelling the rise in fake news, Theresa May said while launching a review into whether state intervention was needed to preserve national and local newspapers.

The investigation is set to examine the rise of low-quality “clickbait” news and whether more could be done by either the industry or government to undermine commercial incentives to produce such content.

Speaking in Manchester to mark 100 years since the Representation of the People Act, which extended the vote to all men over 21 and some women over the age of 30, May said advances in modern technology were having “a profound impact on one of the cornerstones of our public debate – our free press”.

The review will examine the supply chain for digital advertisers and whether content creators, rather than platforms, are getting enough of the revenue. May said the review would examine “whether industry or government-led solutions” were needed to help tackle the issue.

The prime minister, wearing a purple jacket and suffragette pin, called journalism “a huge force for good” but said its existence was under threat. “Good quality journalism provides us with the information and analysis we need to inform our viewpoints and conduct a genuine discussion,” she said. “But in recent years, especially in local journalism, we have seen falling circulations, a hollowing-out of local newsrooms and fears for the future sustainability of high-quality journalism.”

How technology disrupted the truth | Katharine Viner
May said that more than 200 local papers had closed since 2005, naming several in Greater Manchester including the Salford Advertiser, Trafford Advertiser and Wilmslow Express. About two-thirds of local authority areas do not have a daily local newspaper.

“This is dangerous for our democracy. When trusted and credible news sources decline, we can become vulnerable to news which is untrustworthy,” she said. “So to address this challenge to our public debate we will launch a review to examine the sustainability of our national and local press. It will look at the different business models for high-quality journalism.”

May said the review would consider whether “the creators of content are getting their fair share of the advertisement revenue” from the articles they produced. “Digital advertising is now one of the essential sources of revenue for newspapers, the review will analyse how that supply chain operates,” she said. “A free press is one of the foundations on which our democracy is built and it must be preserved.”

The culture minister, Matt Hancock, said the review would investigate the overall health of the news media, the range of news available and how the press was adapting to the new digital market, including the role of platforms like Facebook and Google.

In a statement after May’s speech, Hancock said the industry was facing “an uncertain future” and the review would ensure the UK did not lose a vibrant, independent and plural free press. Hancock said it would examine “clickbait” news to consider if action needed to be taken to reduce its commercial incentive.

The review would also examine how data created or owned by news publications was collected and distributed by online platforms.

David Dinsmore, chair of the News Media Association, said he welcomed the plans: “This review acknowledges the importance of journalism in a democratic society, the vital role that the press takes in holding the powerful to account and producing verified news which informs the public. Viable business models must be found that ensure a wide variety of media are able to have a long and healthy future.”

A panel of experts will be appointed to lead the review in the coming months, with a final report expected early 2019.”


The only campaigning newspaper group in East Devon closes

Owl says: a sad loss. But not surprising when competing titles from Archant Newspapers (Midweek Herald, Sidmouth Herald, Exmouth Journal) for example received 80% of EDDC’s advertising.

The eastern side of East Devon has now not only lost community hospital beds and transport links it has lost the only titles not simply regurgitating press releases passed off as “news” but actively supported the community with real news and genuine investigative journalism.

“A series of newspapers covering Devon, Dorset and Somerset has closed blaming a fall in revenue.

The View From series was based in Lyme Regis, Dorset, with editions covering Axminster, Seaton and Honiton in Devon, Bridport, Dorchester and Weymouth in Dorset, and South Somerset. …”


How one local newspaper changed government policy

“The well-documented squeeze on local journalism, including cuts to staff numbers, pressure from social media and low pay is bound to affect the nature and quality of local news.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy is one shocking example of this. In November 2016 two residents blogged about the possibility of “a serious fire in a tower block”. Why wasn’t this warning picked up locally? The Kensington and Chelsea Chronicle, which had covered residents’ concerns, closed in 2014 and content migrated online to Get West London. Although the Kensington and Chelsea News reopened as part of another group, its sole reporter couldn’t afford to live in the borough and remotely covered the patch from his home in Dorset.

In the case of the vice-chancellor pay story [broken by local newspaper The Bath Chronicle], while to some it looked like a David v Goliath tale of a local rag taking on a giant local employer, the biggest challenge was possibly my newspaper’s business model. To attract advertising, reporters must strive for web hits – it’s a daily pressure in our newsrooms. Like all in Trinity Mirror, the Bath Chronicle is “audience-driven”, meaning that if a story is not getting enough clicks there’s no justification for continuing to cover it.

Even though it was clear there was an audience for scrutiny of the university’s upper echelons, the risk of reader fatigue was always there. I had to ensure that every story took a new and engaging angle and use a different picture wherever possible. I also used social media and tweeted each article directly to 40-odd interested people for them to share or comment.

Last year the BBC announced it had set aside £8m to fund 150 “local democracy reporters”, who will work for qualifying regional publishers and will cover council meetings and public services. It’s a clear attempt to strengthen local reporting, and hold politicians and services to account. The investment should mean that more important stories are covered and may ease pressure on local newspapers as they struggle to pursue leads that need long-term attention. If we don’t hold powerful institutions across the country to account, who will?”


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

Journalism: too elitist, too removed from ordinary people – says journalist

“… Giving the MacTaggart lecture on Wednesday, the journalist [Jon Snow]said: “Amid the demonstrations around the tower after the fire there were cries of: ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you come here before?’

“Why didn’t any of us see the Grenfell action blog? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t we have contact? Why didn’t we enable the residents of Grenfell Tower – and indeed the other hundreds of towers like it around Britain – to find pathways to talk to us and for us to expose their story?

“In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present-day society and in which we are all in this hall major players. We can accuse the political classes for their failures, and we do. But we are guilty of them ourselves.

“We are too far removed from those who lived their lives in Grenfell and who, across the country, now live on amid the combustible cladding, the lack of sprinklers, the absence of centralised fire alarms and more, revealed by the Grenfell Tower fire.” …”



… “The Grenfell residents’ story was out there, published online and shocking in its accuracy. It was hidden in plain sight, but we had stopped looking. The disconnect was complete. Our connectivity – life on Google, Facebook, Twitter and more – has so far failed to combat modern society’s widening disconnection. …”


Worse than fake news – no news

Midweek Herald website has no information on the imminent, speeded-up of the total closure of Seaton Hospital’s community beds on 21 August 2017 and those in Honiton on 28 August 2017.

Today’s Midweek Herald has one letter bemoaning closure in general – and nothing else.

And nothing on the referral of the conduct of the DCC meeting chaired by Sarah Randall Johnson at which referral to the Secretary of State was squashed by a Tory block vote and refusal to debate any alternative and no mention of a planned fight back by Honiton Hospital patients and supporters. Or of Diviani voting one way at EDDC (against closure) and the opposite way at DCC and admitting that when he voted as the representative of Devon’s district councils, he hadn’t actually consulted any of them.

No news is bad news.

Still, you will be able to see praise for the council-subsidised Thelma Hulbert Gallery, so that’s ok then.

Not all Archant newspapers avoid politics – and the group has an Investigation Unit!

“The £5,000 first prize in this year’s Paul Foot Award for investigative and campaigning journalism has been won by Emma Youle of the Archant Investigation Unit, for her work in the Hackney Gazette on the borough’s enormous but hidden, homeless problem. …”


Ah, but hold on, Hackney is a Labour borough! Would they, could they, do it in a Tory district?

Oh well, it’s good to dream for a while!

Source: Private Eye, 30 June, page 10