Archive for the ‘local council’ tag

Knife crime? Where? News from your local council

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Anyone too frazzled to pick up a newspaper for fear of reading about yet more stabbings could turn instead to their local council’s regular news magazine.

Forget ‘broken Britain’ or knife-ridden hell holes, your local council magazine is more likely to paint a rosy picture of new swimming pools being opened, railway station renovations, and post offices saved.

Take ‘My Merton’, a bi-monthly ‘news and information’ magazine produced by Merton Council’s communications team. Inside the latest issue:
- ‘Cracking Crime’ describes how the ‘Tackling Gangs programme was a finalist in the national problem solving police awards’, that neighbourhood watch has been expanded to nearly one in every two households, and that the 25 ‘most prolific burglars’ in Merton are being ‘closely monitored and worked with under the Prolific and Priority Offender scheme.
- Unlike in an independent newspaper, the leader of the Council, David Williams, is given ample space to explain what the council is doing, and is quoted frequently throughout the magazine. No awkward questions about council over-spend, or escalating violence after last orders, or delays on track renovations.
- Rather My Merton reports that ‘The last year has been a successful one for Merton’, with upgrades for leisure centres, community ‘forums flourishing’ and new sports halls getting the go-ahead.

There is even room for a pop at the mainstream press. ‘Young people are often portrayed negatively in the media’ the magazine writes on p.8, ‘but as these two projects show, the reality is often quite different’.

It’s easy to dismiss this as ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they’ and write it off as just another council freesheet but, as Stephen Glover noted in The Independent this week, the number of state funded news outlets is growing fast. “Council publications in Lambeth, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Havering have gone from being monthly to fortnightly, and Hammersmith and Fulham is planning to follow suit. Greenwich will soon have a weekly title. No doubt more and more councils inside and outside London will be turning themselves into publishers.”

Nor are they typed up on tatty bits of A4. My Merton is a glossy full-colour magazine that looks better than many weekend supplements. In addition to council news it has an interview with Gwyneth Strong who is appearing at the New Wimbledon Theatre, some local history, even a ‘What’s On’. My Merton is, according to the magazine, ‘recognised as one of the best council publications in the country’ and has won awards for its design and content.

Indeed, one could make a strong argument that this is how we’ll receive most of our news about the local council in future. Fewer and fewer local papers send a correspondent to council meetings. Most now opt to be sent a press release instead. And, given the dire financial condition of two of the UK’s biggest local newspaper owners, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press, local government reporting (rarely a big crowd puller) is likely to dwindle further.

But woe betide the health of democratic accountability if we have to rely on free Council magazines for information about and scrutiny of local government.

Written by Martin Moore

July 18th, 2008 at 7:46 am

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