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.