Dumb and Dumber

Ah, back to another onionbagblog favourite – the continued decline of accountability in local politics, and the poxy little war being fought between the South London Press and Lambeth Life, the propaganda paper published by our friends from @lambeth_council.

*sigh*

There was a time when the local rag ruled the roost. Local politicians courted local journos. It was an alliance as unlikely (and uneasy) as vicars and tarts. I was never quite sure which organisation was playing which particular part.

But then the collective brains within local the local council (cripes) realised that they could cut out the middle man, and put the local paper out of business. Why sweat on the weekly publication date and yet more woe about how Council Tax money is being wasted, when you can window dress the headlines yourself?

Step forward Lambeth Life. The fortnightly ‘information sheet’ (yeah, right…) puts across the Council’s point of view. It’s a one way process with @cllrstevereed, the leader of the Rotten Borough, not even having the dignity to act as a back seat driver. A fancy fortnightly column reminds you what a fine job Lambeth Labour is doing in the Rotten Borough.

The traditional response from the traditional media has been that local authority publications are funded at the expense of the taxpayer. This is a last cry from a dying dinosaur of a publishing model that has yet to embrace the modern interweb.

At the risk of sounding like I’m defending the Rotten Borough, Lambeth Life is self-supported, with paid for ads. Ah, so that’s where the battleground really lies – traditional media such as the South London Press has got its pants in twist, over the transference of their revenue stream to the local authority.

It’s a point that has been picked up by Greenslade (heads up @darryl1974,) who notes that the good ‘ol SLP reckons it has lost a cool half a million since Lambeth Life started adding to the re-cycling problem within the Rotten Borough. With no cover price, and a door-to-door distribution model that the SLP would die for, you can see why Lambeth Life has got the SLP so rattled.

The point was even picked up by ITV’s London News, pitching SLP Editor-in-Chief Hannah Walker up against the leader of Lambeth Council (you can try and watch it over here, but ITV’s online streaming slowness will probably mean that the file is still buffering long after the SLP has gone out of business.)

With traditional media and the local council both exchanging insults like some long lost press barons, the real issue has become rather lost. Who does the electorate turn to for accountability? The media organisation that has a dislike for the democratically elected local council, or the local council’s propaganda paper that treats Lambeth as La La Land?

You could always make a complaint about the political reporting on both sides. But with SLP Editor Hannah Walker recently joining the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee at the Press Complaints Commission, and Lambeth Life offering a reader’s right of reply that is more Points of View than Paxo, you’d be left pretty much stuffed with both publications.

Nope, what’s really killing off the SLP is the modern interweb. The classified section (the heart and soul of any paid for publication) is all now available for free online. Builders, painters and prostitutes (the SLP isn’t afraid to take the moral low ground when it comes to pimping out its pages) – all trades are only a Google or Gumtree search away.

Editorially and the SLP has taken the simple sword of journalistic truth and stabbed itself in the foot. The site fails at every level – re-publishing print stories as brochureware, long after they have been available on the newsstands. There is a complete lack of user interaction and a laughable interpretation of blogs, where content is updated as an after thought, and not as a stimulus.

Adapt or die. Or give the job over to someone who can do justice in sourcing South London stories online. The paper is being burnt on its very own historical hunting ground, with truly wonderful hyperlocal sites such as SE1, the mighty U75 community or even the East Dulwich Forum, all coming up with the real local scoops, day after day.

Likewise @lambeth_council is failing online. The Twitter account is used as a publishing source, and not as a tool to engage. The website navigation is almost as confusing as the policies coming out of the Town Hall, and the failure to take action against an elected official after calling a rival colleague ‘a scab‘ online, all adds up to a non-existent 2.0 strategy.

So where does this all leave the electorate? Sitting somewhere in the dark, unable to trust the SLP with its personal vendetta against @lambeth_council, who in return, is publishing a propaganda sheet, thinly disguised as a council service.

The people of South London deserve better, on both fronts.

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