Tuesday 25 July 2017

Whatever happened to the local papers?

Bill Montgomery
Bill Montgomery - A local press giant
In the London Borough of Barnet, there are three main local papers. There is the Times Series, The Press and The Ham and High. By clicking on these links, you can see a digital copy of the paper edition (although the Times group seems to have given up on putting all but the Barnet edition on the website since last December). At one point all of these papers have won awards for the highest quality of local journalism. For many years, Bill Montgomery used to write an award winning column on the Times, where he'd report on the shenanigans at the meetings of Barnet Council.

I originally started blogging on the Times group, before the Barnet Eye existed. I used Bill's style and column as an inspiration. I believed that the local papers in the Borough of Barnet were neglecting the goings on at the Town Hall. The public agreed with me. To my amazement, my blogs were constantly in the "most read articles" list on the website. This was an online, realtime list of the stories receiving the most hits. As my blogs were not complimentary to Barnet Council, this attracted the ire of the Conservative Councillors running the council and they pressured the editor of the Times, Phil Crowther, to get rid of my services. Rather incredibly, the pretext they used was that I had written an inflammatory blog, detailing how Barnet Council had uploaded a youtube of a BNP sympathiser spouting anti semitic bile onto the Council website as the reason. Amazingly, the council objected to my requests that such an obnoxious piece could be given a slot on the Council website and demanding its removal.

As a result, two things happened. Firstly I set up the Barnet Eye and the Barnet blogging scene was well and truly established (although to be fair, David Miller, AKA Don't Call Me Dave, had set up his own right of centre blog in response to my column, and Dan Hope had also made various efforts to cover Barnet Politics, prior to this). The other Barnet Bloggers soon followed suit, Vicki Morris was first, and Mr Reasonable, Mrs Angry and Mr Mustard soon followed, and the Barnet Bloggers became the voice of the people of Barnet. Whilst that was the good thing, the bad thing was that it seemed to mark the end of the local papers attempt to cover Barnet Politics properly. A new low occurred last week for Barnet's old fashioned press. On Tuesday, there was a meeting of the committee responsible for childrens services at Barnet Town Hall. The committee was reviewing the most serious scandal in Barnet in living memory. OFSTED have issued a report that the councils childrens services were not fit for purpose. The council were debating this. The Barnet bloggers issued a joint statement last Monday to ensure that the issue was given a serious response. However not one of the three papers carried a report in the paper version. These go to hundreds of thousands of local households. The local Conservatives crow that local residents have given them a good rating in a recent survey. I believe that the local press have been complicit in ignoring the failures of the council and not covering council meetings properly. The argument is that "people are not interested in local politics". This is nonsense. I proved this when I had a blog on the Times website and I've proved it again, with the enormous number of hits I receive on this blog, as have the other Barnet bloggers.

Time and time again, we've had huge scoops. Some of the individual blogs on this site have gone viral and had tens of thousands of direct hits. I don't make any particular efforts to publicise the blog, other than to tweet them when I post them. Anyone who looks at the blog does so because they are interested. Over two million hits says  that there is a huge interest. I believe that if the local papers carried proper local news, they'd get more readers and sell more advertising, but there is nothing worth reading in them, whilst huge stories are ignored.  I was disgusted to read on the Barnet Times paper edition on Page 11 a virtual reprint of the press release about high satisfaction in last weeks edition, whilst no mention at all was made of the torrid meeting on Tuesday, where the council had to own up that they have failed vulnerable children. At the end of the cut and paste article it says "what do you think, call our reporter Jenny Desborough". Let me tell you what I think. I think Jenny Desborough should do what local reporters such as Bill Montgomery did. Get down the town hall, get out and  about, read the Barnet Blogs, as we have the stories before anyone else. Work with us and make the local papers of Barnet win awards again. Once again, I will repeat my offer. I'll happily write a guest column or regular blog for any of the local papers that are interested. I won't charge a penny for it. It's not as if I haven't proven two million times that people are interested in what I have to say!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly timed blog post! http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/more-london-press-closures-as-tindle-closes-three-north-london-weekly-with-loss-of-six-editorial-staff/