Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Whilst I was off "busy" last week, a really good debate developed on the 'Food Fair' thread between Mike Barker, Alan Macnab and James Doran. It covered the fair itself (of which more anon) but also fleshed out some points on the merits, or otherwise, of council magazines.

Mike commented ruefully at one point that my blog was no place for LibDem policy to be discussed. I beg to differ - this blog is exactly the place to forensically examine LibDem policy. And as all we know about what local LibDems would do after a fantasy election victory is their promise of wall-to-wall wheelie bins, it's well worth the time and effort.

Mike gives us some tantalising glimpses into our LibDems' communication strategy. They wouldn't get rid of a council publication. But it would be "less boastful". It also wouldn't be "glossy". Neither would it take business away from the Echo. That leaves some important questions unanswered, and perhaps Mike would like to fill some of the gaps.

(1) What does "less boastful" actually mean? I think that having the Town Crier as an upbeat, but always accurate, publication is part of its appeal. Is Mike honestly telling us that a LibDem rag would be positively gloomy about council services here in Darlington? Whilst I would imagine that a town run by Martin Swainston wouldn't exactly be a barrel of laughs, would anyone really want to read it?
(2) Would the publication still be monthly? What does Mike think it would cost? How would it be paid for without the input from local and regional advertising?
(3) Would the paper incorporate contrary views from opposition councillors. One of Mike's candidates in 2011's local elections Alan Macnab thinks it should. Does Mike agree? How does Mike think that would go down with the Echo, whose job it really is to reflect the cut and thrust of local political debate?

James I think makes some telling points about how "local" newspapers really are in an age of transnational conglomorates. I can make a case that the Town Crier, which is after all non-profit making and run from the town, is genuinely local and (via local elections) genuinely accountable to the people of Darlington.

And of clear relevance to the whole debate is what the people of Darlington actually think (and not the usual bunch of nay sayers who write to the Echo week in, week out). This year's Community Survey shows that reading of the Town Crier rose to 87.0% from 83.2%. Agreement that the Town Crier keeps people well informed of Darlington Council news and information rose to 86.5% from 79.5% in 2008. Impressive stats.

And to assist, the Community Survey this year was based upon completed questionaire interviews with 1,024 adults living in the Borough, taken across all wards, with age and gender quotas applied.

Mike at least has the good sense to recognise, as most councils do, that having a newspaper or magazine is essential to good communication with residents. If I were a gambling man (which I am), I think following a LibDem victory what we would see is a cynical rebranding exercise, with a change of name and style, but basically the Town Crier reborn. Hardly the dramatic change which Mike is now intimating.


Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

Nick to correct you, I didn't comment on the food festival. I didn't attend it so I could not comment.

I did however rise to the bait about the Town Crier and ownership of local newspapers.

Mike Barker said...

Ah, Nick, you have an uncanny knack of bringing a smile to my face, even on a dreary Wednesday morning.

I think I will decline your kind invitation to continue the debate on the Town Crier issue here. You must allow us to continue to tantalise your readers. I think I have given a pretty good indication of our thinking here.

Frankly, I'm slightly surprised so much time has been spent on this subject, though I accept it is a useful diversion for the Labour Party from the woes which afflict it both locally and nationally.

While Peter Barron is fully justified in defending his industry and his paper, I suspect for the Conservatives, who have ridden in like a knight on a white charger in his defense, it is little more than political opportunism and an attempt to curry favour with the Echo (if not with the Council's PR department).

The real issues that face this country: climate change, unemployment, the budget deficit, ASB, Afghanistan and so on are affected not one jot by whether or not we have a Council publication.

By the way, don't think I've forgotten about my remarks in Cabinet being called "silly". I'll be back!

ex-labour said...

Nick is there any substance to the rumours that Mandy is to denounce his lordship and be parachuted in as next MP for Darlington.

Is it also true that at a recent Council meeting Cllr Chapman commented that the £3 admission had been disasterous to the turn out at the recent food fair reducing it by approx 90%?

ianh said...

Well, Nick, whilst being no aplogist for the Lib dems on this, i must take issue on a couple of points:
1- The Town Crier .."always accurate" are you sure??? certainly not a fair desciption over the Hurworth school/academy fiasco. Old news i know, but a fair reflection as to how this publication was/is abused for propoganda purposes.

As for it being "not for profit" of course this is true, it "costs" every single council tax payer!unless of course you show me how the advertisng covers ALL costs, including dbc staff time etc.

If the crier was restricted to providing key contact details and changes to services etc it would be held in far less contempt.

Ian W said...

Also possibly shrink it to half its physical size (A5 I think) thus also cutting the costs and paper used helping with the enviroment, after all you are "Cabinet Member for Sustainable Environment and Climate Change"
Certainly I would advocate the removal the "letter from the leader" section inside the first page after the true extent of his mismanagment of the PHart fiasco was unearthed (no punn intended).
As for Ian H's coments about old news not being forgotten.
I for one still remember "Hurworth will not close" and too remember the Crier's smoke and mirrors approach when it came to the real truth over that particular story.

ex-labour said...

Nick I did laugh at your comment "Whilst I would imagine that a town run by Martin Swainston wouldn't exactly be a barrel of laughs, would anyone really want to read it?" the one ran by John Williams is not exactly splitting my sides at present, at least Martin has not cost the tax payer Million's and merely shrugged it off and he did suggest all Cllrs. take no allowance's this year. (not certain on that but did hear it)

Yes I would think of the barrel of laughs you actually would get, it reminds me of a childrens book "find wally" where you have to search the book to find wally hidden in a mess of other pictures.

The Libdem version of the Crier could be find the fib, because if we are to believe everything we read in the Libdem Focus they fix everything, when in reality they let someone else resolve a problem and when it is near completion and a resolution tag on the end and claim it was them that sorted the particular situation out, along with the much publisised pointing photos everyone laughs at these days, every Councillor must point to his/her achievements in every photo taken (regardless of party)

I know for a fact there are a few people here in Hurworth upset at the Libdem's taking the glory for their hard work. I will not mention names but there is one fib in particular that the person who actually did the work on is livid about.

So yes the town crier could continue on under the Fib's and could still have as many inacuracy's as the present one, just the claims of their achievements would be pages and pages of other peoples hard work and effort, and if I could only remember the website for Councillors point at holes we could all have a laugh.

The Crier/Liar would just become the Fibber :)

Ian W said...

Here it is I was just on joking to Gill Cartwright about it yesterday


Have a laugh.

Anonymous said...



eda said...