Here’s how you report local politics if you are a local media organisation that values objectivity and delivering hard news copy to your readers: You cut and paste word for word a press release sent out by the ruling party.
Simple, eh? So that’s where I’ve been going wrong…
It seems that political apathy in the Rotten Borough leads to journalistic apathy. Or maybe it’s the other way round? Either way, it’s the electorate that loses out.
The sanguine story that appeared as news copy following the @lambeth_council cabinet meeting on Monday was written entirely by the ruling Labour group. We may as well give up all hope of debate. Job’s a good ‘un.
I actually rather respect the Streatham Guardian. The paper has a twitter feed (albeit non-conversational) and is coming up with some decent scoops, such as the FOI request regarding empty properties in Lambeth. It also poops all over the South London Press online (the current SLP blog page really is a waste of the modern interweb – no updates yet this decade.)
But with SW16 being particularly open to neglect by the current Labour administration (Hub, Caesars planning rejections, empty shop fronts) now is the time that the local people really need a campaigning paper that will stick up for the local patch.
Cutting and pasting party political press releases is just plain poor. What is particularly frustrating about the non-attendance of the Streatham Guardian at cabinet, is that the main news story was completely missed.
The headline news coming out of cabinet wasn’t the freezing of Council Tax. This is to be congratulated, but not in the context of the party in power writing news copy for you. Nope, the Streatham Guardian (and others) missed completely the consequences of the lower than expected rise in council rent that was passed at cabinet.
The paper may have viewed the debate in a different manner to my “chewing up and spitting out” (arf!) analysis. But at least the story would have been covered by an organisation with (hopefully) no connection the council.
By chasing the short-term gain in appeasing the electorate, there are some very real budgetary constraints that both the incoming new administration, and Lambeth Living are going to have to try and resolve after 6th May.
Many of the readers of the Streatham Guardian will no doubt be asking questions as to why there is a shortfall in funding to repair their crumbling property. Some of the readers may even work on the frontline at Lambeth Living, and be at risk of losing their jobs.
Hearing of how Lambeth Living is currently spunking away £700 per hour on contractors is another angle from cabinet that was overlooked in the cut and paste press release. I doubt if the newspaper will ask the ruling party to write a press release to cover this sequence of events.
It’s a similar story over in Greenwich. The News Shopper, the sister paper to the Streatham Guardian, is also taking a sabbatical at local council meetings in the run up to the local elections.
This total lack of accountability in Lambeth is partly responsible for allowing such a right wing Labour party to mismanage public services throughout the Rotten Borough. It is a very dangerous position to be in when the local council is in control of the news agenda.
At least with Lambeth Life you know you’re getting a council penned puff piece. I sincerely hope that the Streatham Guardian and the South London Press are serious about employing genuine journalistic practises in the Rotten Borough as we approach polling day.