Council shifts focus to own newspaper

A London council has been steadily reducing the number of press officers it employs as it places a greater emphasis on publishing its own 'local newspaper'.

Council paper: Hammersmith & Fulham's fortnightly H&F News
Council paper: Hammersmith & Fulham's fortnightly H&F News

If replicated around the country, the action by Hammersmith & Fulham Council could see hundreds of council press officers replaced by editorial staff.

Hammersmith & Fulham's H&F News publication went fortnightly in May. The council's head of comms Simon Jones said that since 2005 he had reduced the number of press officers from six to two as emphasis had shifted to the publication of H&F News.

He added that the council had seen double-digit increases in its 'resident-informed ratings' since going fortnightly. Jones said: 'We now have some of the highest informed ratings in London.'

Jones estimated that his press officers were now splitting their time equally between PR and writing articles for H&F News.

Other councils to recently take their publications fortnightly include Lambeth, Hackney, Waltham Forest and Havering and more are expected to follow in the next few months. Meanwhile, Greenwich has gone weekly.

Local Government Association head of news Richard Stokoe said that the change of focus made sense. 'It is more cost-effective to get the council PR into its own mag and save on recruitment advertising costs in the local rag,' said Stokoe. 'This has been especially true where the local paper has been a constant thorn in the council's side.'

But there is concern that the shift is impinging on the circulations of traditional local newspapers.

LGComms secretary and Westminster City Council head of comms Alex Aiken said: 'I am concerned that we are rushing headlong into a desire for more frequent publications without considering whether it is right for a government freesheet to damage a local business.'

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