Local Press

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:40 am on 20th January 2009.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush 11:40 am, 20th January 2009

This has not been a happy new year for my local press. The Ealing Times closed before Christmas. In early January, Trinity Mirror cut its editorial staff for London and the south-east from 96 to 80. For those papers covering my constituency, that means a cut of about a third. The situation is somewhat unusual in that Trinity Mirror owns both the remaining newspaper groups, the Gazette and Chronicle series. On 7 January, it told the UK Press Gazette that all the titles will have one centralised subbing and production hub and one centrally managed photographic team. It said that journalists will be given laptops, mobile phones and new software. It did not mention desks.

Effectively, one centre will cover areas including Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and north, south, east and west London. No semblance of a local newspaper or independence will remain after those cuts. That is very sad. Both the Fulham Chronicle and the Ealing Gazette have long histories going back over a century, and a loyal readership that has been sorely tried over the years. Despite their common ownership, they have remained fully independent and great rivals. The quality of journalism has never been better in the 25 years that I have been reading and contributing to them. There has been a combination of experienced editors and sub-editors, and enthusiastic journalists, such as Steve Still, Rebecca Kent and Michael Russell on the Gazette and Tom Shaw and Saffron Pineger on the Chronicle. I make no criticism of them at all. What is said about the pay levels for local journalists is absolutely right. Staff turnover is high because people cannot afford to live on the salaries that they are paid.

Although it is right to say that the recession and unfair competition are the reason for the decline of the local press, the seeds were sown some time ago. The fact that Trinity Mirror and other publishers put their shareholders before their journalists and readers means that when one picks up a local paper, it no longer is that. There are a couple of pages of local news, and then one suddenly finds oneself into the next borough or county in what is effectively syndicated and generalised news. For that reason, sales inevitably go down, and the decline becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. As one or two of my hon. Friends have said, investment is the answer to selling more papers and producing a better product. The successful newspapers that remain in London are the ones that contain genuinely local news that people wish to read.

I also want to draw attention to the growth of the yellow press or, as in this case, the yellow, blue and red press. Under the guise of producing information, all local authorities and parties publish what is effectively political propaganda to keep the ruling party in power. I am not talking about the traditional council publications—they are dire in the extreme—that contain information about the mayor's engagements and are produced by one hard-pressed information officer. Probably the only thing on which I agree with Boris Johnson is getting rid of The Londoner. He did that because it was absolutely useless.