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Journalism, media, trends

Tories’ “radical” local newspaper replacement idea – meh

So the Tories are suggesting the creation of around 80 independent cross-platform, ad-funded news companies staffed by professional journalists and community volunteers, in an attempt to fill the gap local newspapers are leaving behind.

Oooh.

The suggestion comes in the shape of a so-called ‘Consultation paper to stimulate discussion,’ published on 15 July and written by ex-journalist Roger Parry, executive chairman of marketing group Media Square, non-executive director of Johnston Press, Future Publishing and yougov. It was commissioned by the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Hunt, whose background is in marketing and consultancy.

The paper proposes a “radical approach to encourage the growth of a new tier of Local Multi-media Companies” and has among objectives to provide “well resourced and vibrant local journalism.” And a typical ‘LMC,’ it says, would cover a city or group of towns and would combine local television, radio, print and web sites.

A strong element would involve broadcasting over digital TV channels (“The growth of these will be stimulated by newly created local digital television franchises,” it says), spurred by the freeing up of digital TV spectrum once the UK digital switchover is completed in 2012. It says using the digital spectrum to create local free-to-air broadcasting will be the “catalyst” for the creation of LMCs.

Interesting. But – the report even says it – on the whole, local TV in the UK has been a flop.

And what of the poor old local newspaper publishers and journalists if these plans were to come to fruition? Rog says publishers “will have to make the transition to become multi-media operators.” But what will be the effect, Rog?: “this will strengthen local communities,” the report says.

Hmm. High hopes. Greater the fall and all that. And what does it mean, to “strengthen” a community by using a particular media channel anyway?

The Digital Britain report proposed similar “independently financed news consortia.” But how this blueprint – and it is a blueprint rather than anything else – differs from that report, is that the Tories propose no funding will come from the public purse and it would be funded by advertising alone, meaning money would come from: “display and classified advertising, sponsorship, product placement, retailing, copy sales, by selling news services to regional and national providers and by providing local media services.”

And if there was enough money floating around to pay for ads, why are so many national papers slimming down, reducing section pagination and opting for online-only models?

They are asking DCMS and Ofcom to consult on this idea, although as PaidContent’s Patrick Smith points out, Labour government organisations will hardly be tripping over themselves to consult on Tory plans.

The verdict on LMCs? “- meh.”

NOTE – The American-English ‘meh’ was entered into a UK English dictionary (Harper Collins) for the first time just last year.

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