Council coverage in local newspapers: Waltham Forest and Romford

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 18 January 2010

A while ago I signed up to my colleague Sarah Hartley's 'Help Me Investigate' project on how much council coverage there is in local newspapers. There is considerable debate about the role of the local paper in ensuring local democracy, and in many quarters the rise of the council's own paper is seen as threatening the regional press.

I looked at two papers from different areas. Firstly a physical copy of my local, the Waltham Forest Guardian, and a digital facsimile of the Romford Recorder.

I found the following in Walthamstow:

  • I looked at the January 14, 2010 edition of the Waltham Forest Guardian.
  • There were 80 printed pages.
  • 68 of them featured advertising, sport, entertainments listings and classifieds where you could not reasonably expect council coverage.
  • Of the remaining 12 pages, 4 pages worth was devoted to stories about or originating from the council - only one mention of my dad though.

Stories in Waltham Forest concerned planning around the greyhound stadium, financial corruption issues surrounding the council, proposed budget cuts, and probes into the affairs of a local school and the council's preferred choice of property management company.

In Romford the situation was:

  • I looked at the January 15, 2010 edition of the Romford Records.
  • There were 64 printed pages.
  • 45¼ of them featured advertising, sport, entertainments listings and classifieds where you could not reasonably expect council coverage.
  • Of the remaining 18¾ pages, 5½ pages worth was devoted to stories about or originating from the council.

The council featured in a front page splash about the closure of a problem pub, a budget crisis in special school provision, a successful campaign from the paper to get a wheelchair ramp installed, and the 'surprise' news that over 70 council employees have the right to enter your home without your consent.

I didn't see any direct reporting of the proceedings of council or council committee meetings in either publication.

Waltham Forest Guardian front page

Incidentally, the front page story of the Waltham Forest Guardian was worth bookmarking for reference next time you are on Cif / Have Your Say / Daily Mail comment threads and spot the old mantra "People talk about 'moderate' Muslims, but these Muslims never come out and say anything against the extremists - John Bull, England, not Nu LieBore's CommEUnist Hell". The article features quote after quote of local Muslim's condemning the locally-based Islam4UK organisation.

Keep up to date on my new blog