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

Grenfell Tower let down by local newspapers – leaving only tenants’ blog to report the problems

“Decline of advertising revenue and changing perceptions of ‘quality journalism’ have left no room for much needed local reporting

A day after the Grenfell Tower fire in West London, a Sky News camera crew is talking to writer, film-maker and local resident Ishmahil Blagrove as he delivers a polished exposition on the failings of the media as playing a part in the disaster.

“This is not just a story – this situation has been brewing for years … You the media, you are the mouthpiece of this government and you make it possible.” Later Blagrove describes the mainstream media as “a bunch of motherfuckers” to a small crowd surrounding him who break into polite applause. Channel 4’s Jon Snow faced an angry group outside Grenfell the same day, asking him where the press was when the fire safety concerns were first raised.

Among the many elements of failure which lead to the unacceptable and avoidable, the failure of accountability reporting on local communities is obvious to anyone who cares to scour the archives. The Grenfell Action Group blog carefully documented their repeated complaints to the council. Other reporting is scarce, and where it exists, hard to find.

Grenfell Action Group blogposts form the most reliable archive of concerns about the area’s social housing, and yet they were unable to make the council act on their behalf. Even in the aftermath of what the group describes as “social murder”, it continues to publish posts on other housing tenants and issues in the area. Inside Housing, the trade publication, has been full of good reporting on safety issues but it has a different constituency and no leverage over local officials.

The causes of the failure of local journalism are well known: commercialism, consolidation, the internet, poor management. The fixes for that, though, cannot be found in an environment which is commercially hostile to small scale accountability journalism, and for that we are all to blame.

The decline of in-depth reporting about London’s richest borough is a microcosm of what has happened to local journalism in the UK and beyond – the pattern is the same from Kensington to Kentucky.

A few minutes on Google will give you a snapshot of how local media has become a hollowed-out, commercial shell for an important civic function. In 2010 the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle launched a Proper Papers Not Propaganda campaign against H&F News, the Hammersmith and Fulham freesheet published by the local council at a cost of £175,000 of taxpayers’ money. Councils using advances in printing technology to cheaply produce professional-looking papers was the second part of a pincer movement on the local press, the first being the loss of advertising to Google’s search advertising.

In 2014, Trinity Mirror closed seven local papers and consolidated three West London titles, including the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle, and relaunched one Gazette to cover the territory of three defunct papers.

In truth the detailed coverage of local stories was already difficult for news organisations to maintain, and in some cases the idea of high-quality local reporting had always been a myth. But the evisceration of any sustainable professional journalism at the local level creates both an accountability vacuum and a distance between media and the communities it reports on.

As well as council-owned outlets, a plethora of glossy lifestyle and housing media mop up the advertising revenue not ingested by Facebook or Google. The local publication Kensington, Chelsea & Westminster Today – listed as the only free newspaper in the borough – has no local reporting at all.

The “news” site contains no information about its ownership or staff. However, in company filings its editor is listed as Kate Hawthorne, who is also the director of public relations company Hatricks.

The revolution in ground-level local media has never taken off in the way it was meant to. The local blogs run by tenants, activists and other citizens, find themselves isolated and crowded out in clogged social streams, short on attention, funding and traction. Often they rely on the tenacity and unpaid labour of their founders for survival.

As scale has become the sine qua non, choosing between the world and the local street has become the bargain for editors. The Guardian closed its own local city reporting experiment in 2011. The Daily Mail and General Trust sold its local newspapers to expand its global news and entertainment website. New players like Huffington Post and BuzzFeed are globalists not localists. The New York Times is putting more reporters into Europe than onto the local beat. The Washington Post was freed from a local remit and has soared since.

Senior editors are much more likely to be spending time in a departure lounge than a council chamber. Many have never held a reporting job that required them to sit in local courts or civic meetings.

Covering local housing meetings is an unglamorous beat for any journalist; hardly anyone reads your work, almost nobody cares what happens in the meetings, and the pay is extremely low. Yet it is hard to argue there are more civically important jobs for journalism than reporting the daily machinations of local power.

Local reporting serves another function which is seldom discussed. Local journalism should be a pipeline which takes young people from very different backgrounds into the profession of reporting; it ought to provide an access point for people to get to know and understand the importance of accountability coverage by participating in it.

The shallow wisdom of digital editors is often that when nobody reads your story, you are doing it wrong. But the stories worth covering that nobody reads are the fabric of the public record.

The immediate reach of a single story is only half the story. The record of what happens for instance at Kensington and Chelsea committee meetings is for the most part available in PDFs on the council’s website. There is no corresponding public record kept by independent reporters and without the Grenfell Action Group we would know almost nothing of the warning signs that were repeatedly pushed in front of the council.

The rise of vast advertising platforms has sucked money from the market, and the efficiencies have been good for business and bad for journalism. National and international media, who were numerous on the ground after the Grenfell fire, have conspired in creating an attention economy which leaves no room for the unread story.

Coverage of the “quality” of a media outlet often starts with a “how many….” metric about views and shares. There is decreasing correlation between high numbers and quality journalism; when it is set in a social environment, where gimmicks and outrage cause social “sharing”, the opposite is often true.

John Ness, who has been editor in chief of two US-based ventures to make hyperlocal journalism work on the web, Patch and DNAInfo, sees the difficulty of establishing and maintaining independent journalism at local level as feeding into issues of trust and transparency which blight all media.

I think people increasingly understand that our news ecosystem is broken, to the point where we can’t agree with our neighbours about what news events actually happened the day before. And I think people increasingly understand that the base of that ecosystem, local news, has to be fixed if we’re going to get back to a place where we share the same reality with our neighbours.,” he says.

There is decreasing correlation between high numbers and quality journalism
Ness thinks the route to sustainability resides primarily with people paying more for local media. In the US, communities with high-density populations and engaged citizens have had some success at creating not-for-profit local outlets, like the investigative outlet The Lens in New Orleans, and the veteran Voice of San Diego, or the much larger Texas Tribune in Austin. These remain the exceptions rather than the rule.

The BBC is increasingly the best hope of a route to building sustainable local reporting, but the costs of broadcasting are even less compatible with the scale issues of local stories, and the political penalties for rooting out corruption at council level mitigate the appetite for the mission.

As national and global news outlets in all their many forms continue to flood into the Grenfell story, they will I am sure, unearth and report on the root causes. But the stories which expose the causes of the fire, however they emerge, will not make up for the lack of the stories that might have stopped it in the first place.

The bitter irony of course is that a story read by a thousand people might have had more impact than one seen by 10 million. It is with deep regret and shame that we will never know if that could have been the case. Like Blagrove says, it is not just a story, it has been coming for a long time.”


Midweek Herald excels again!

The EDDC postal vote scandal? Nothing. The general election? Just a blip on the landscape – reduced to one reluctant half page of candidates’ puff – and that’s been it for the last few weeks.

Anyone would think they had been told to keep it away from the public.

News? What news? Nothing to see here – move on please, move on.

Not a single general election issue covered in today’s Midweek Herald!

One short letter supporting Claire Wright, a front page about chaos at Honiton Town Council – and that’s it! Though there are a lot of pages about gardening, good works and homes for sale.

Has anyone told them there’s a general election and local newspapers are expected to inform us about, well, local news.

Or maybe someone has and that’s how they have decided to deal with it.

Well, at least it’s free.

Where to get the news first?

10 January 2017
Owl reports on website that Honiton Town Council standards High Court decision:


12 January 2017:
Sidmouth Herald reports website that Honiton Town Council standards case High Court decision:


Stay ahead with East Devon Watch!

Midweek Herald defends right to free press in full page ad

Complaining about new rules on [curtailing] press freedom, the Midweek Herald takes out a whole page ad to defend it.

A quote from the ad:

“For generations the Midweek Herald and other newspapers have fulfilled a crucial role by challenging injustice, safe in the knowledge that if we are right then no amount of money, influence or power can stop us telling the truth

Can anyone recall the last time that the Midweek Herald stood up for injustice? When was the last time a local Archant newspaper used the Freedom of Information Act to reveal an injustice or bending of facts?

The Archant Group, of which the Midweek Herald is part, gets 90% of EDDC’s advertising budget. Advertising is how newspapers make their money and everyone is naturally wary of biting hands that feed them.

However, usually it is the two other local newspapers, that get very little EDDC revenue (“View from” titles and “Express and Echo”) that break controversial news or make a stand on injustices – or name the names of powerful people getting up to no good.

ALL local newspapers these days are somewhat guilty of passing off press releases from regular contributors as news. It is usually quite clear to see when this happens, as only the slightest bit of tweaking is done to them and you can put the local newspapers side by side and see that the same hand wrote 90% of the words. Or sometimes they are not even tweaked at all and the same identical prose is used.

That isn’t all bad – news about local clubs, societies, churches etc is welcome.

But if an organisation employs people whose job title includes the word “journalist” then we expect the news BEHIND the headlines, which is often very, very different to the “news” in a press release.

Any organisation that employs a “Communications Manager” or a “Press Officer” does so to micro-manage the information leaving that organisation and avoid negative press – that’s their job.

A good journalist might need to sup with the devil but does not have to give free publicity to the devil’s favourite drink.

Osborne wants more Chinese investment in infrastructure

Hot on the heels of the news that the Chinese want to own more of Hinkley C (see post below) is further news in a Sunday Telegraph two-page spread that George Osborne is keen for them to invest in all areas of the UK economy, particularly infrastructure projects.

However, concerns have been raised that Chinese companies may not be able to adapt to stricter and more stringent regulation than they are used to at home and that they may use other countries to test out new technologies about which they are unsure. [That’s ok – we just keep watering down our regulations to suit them as with the financial regulations on banks, retail tycoons, etc].

Not to mention questions of national security (also in the post below). The Sunday Telegraph goes on to say that in 2013 a parliamentary intelligence and security committee concluded that the UK had left itself vulnerable to [Chinese] state-sponsored spying by allowing Huawai to become involved in the British telecoms industry.

So, that’s why we can’t get rural broadband – our conversations aren’t interesting enough!

Happy Clappy Midweek Herald!

Just to throw you off the scent, there is a “controversial” story on the front page but thereafter we continue to luve in Utopian East Devon!

A mildly critical story about EDDC ignoring the protected species of bat in their relocation plans is relegated to a small article on page 15 which gives more prominence to EDDC’s views than anyone else’s.

And Neil Parish is lauded for his efforts to publicise heart disease but NOTHING about him saying that the public (ie us) should be encouraged to “get behind” fracking.

We do at least still have the “View from” titles to give us a more balanced set of new stories each week.

Oh, and a quickie mentioned by someone from Sidmouth last week: why does the Sidmouth Herald carry a Beer news page when the Midweek Herald doesn’t? Beer is about 10 miles from Sidmouth and about 2 miles from Seaton. It couldn’t be snobbery, surely!