Editor’s comment: I still think the town hall is in the wrong

Hackney Today, the town hall's freesheet

Hackney Today, the town hall's freesheet - Credit: Archant

It’ll be obvious to anyone who reads this column that I’m not the biggest fan of the government, so in principle the idea of a lefty council standing up to the department that has ruthlessly cut its funding over and over again appeals to me (Hackney Today, p4).

But I simply don’t recognise Phil Glanville’s suggestion that council freesheets aren’t competing with newspapers like the Gazette.

We don’t see Hackney Today as a newspaper but some of its readers do. As a case in point, when we referred to it as a “propaganda rag” this week, one tweeted us back insisting it wasn’t, because it carried news that wasn’t just about the council.

Yes, in cold market terms, the onus is on us to attract people to our publication. But how many people, pressed for time and feeling the pinch, will buy a second Hackney paper after receiving something that looks like one, free of charge? If Hackney’s public notices went into the Gazette, we’d be able to print enough copies of our paper to give some of them out for nothing, like we do with our sister paper the Islington Gazette. It’s not just about competing for advertising, although that has been known to happen. It’s about competing for attention.

The council is hamstrung by the law it thinks it’s cheating: it’s forced to produce a huge quantity of Hackney Today, and plough money into its content and misleading design, to meet its obligations to put statutory notices in a newspaper. I’m all for bringing services in house, but scrutiny is not something that should be left to the town hall. It is damaging to democracy for people in Hackney to get “news” from a council freesheet. And it might just kill off the real paper for good.