Local authorities have begun to get caught up in it – in terms of distribution and publishing.
On the distribution side, Westminster council has said that with more than a million newspapers handed out every day, it is facing an extra three tonnes of discarded newsprint on its streets.
The two main culprits – thelondonpaper, produced by Murdoch’s News International, and London Lite, the free version of the Evening Standard produced by Associated – have been threatened with a ban unless they contribute towards recycling costs.
This newsprint explosion is not just confined to London. Metro, one of the first free dailies, is now distributed in 18 UK conurbations covering a combined population of nearly 20 million.
On the publishing side, boroughs producing sizeable newspapers of their own are facing protests from ‘real’ local papers that say they are taking away their business.
UK councils argue that running their own newspapers is a valid way of flexing their editorial and commercial muscle. And why shouldn’t they? News belongs to everyone now. We no longer have to buy it in a shop or get it delivered. We can click on it, browse it, download it and podcast it. We get it thrust at us in stations, coffee bars, public buildings and on the streets.
However, if you downgrade the commodity of news, by making it so freely available, the battle shifts from who gets the scoop to who controls the distribution – hence the millions now being spent on free newspapers up and down the UK.
I would rather the money was spent finding, writing and presenting the news than on ensuring we get the same news over and over again, for free.