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Camden New Journal - by JOHN GULLIVER
Published: 12 July 2007
cllr Theo Blackwell
Cllr Theo Blackwell
Axing council adverts seen as attack on CNJ

Switch to internet hits tenants, Labour politician warns

ACCUSATIONS that the Town Hall is damaging the Camden New Journal by withdrawing advertisements have been made by a senior Labour councillor.
In his internet blog, Councillor Theo Blackwell points to a recent decision by the ruling Lib Dem-Tory coalition to kill a weekly page – often two pages – of “choice-based lettings”(CBL), where tenants bid for council flats of their liking.
This was a new type of advertisement pioneered by the Town Hall three years ago that proved popular with tenants.
As part of its cuts, the council now wants tenants to consult the advertisement on its website.
“So less of the advertising cash for the CNJ in order to save costs,” says Cllr Blackwell in his blog, a website where he comments on Town Hall affairs.
The council will continue to book a smaller weekly space in the New Journal, presumably telling tenants where to find the CBL advertisement.
“Clearly, less CBL means fewer readers – a very handy unintended consequence for officers and politicians long fed up with the kicking the CNJ gives them each week...” writes Cllr Blackwell.
Arguing that the weekly advertisement should stay in the New Journal, Cllr Blackwell says council tenants “with much lower rates of internet access” will not now be able to turn to their “favourite local paper” for details of the lettings.
He contrasts this with “rich residents” who have “ready access” to the internet and are able to see public notices of “next-door” developments in another local paper, the Ham and High.
His blog appears in the same week as a letter arrived at the CNJ from director of housing Neil Litherland confirming the withdrawal of the CBL advertisement and its replacement by a smaller one.
He had replied to a letter by CNJ editor Eric Gordon complaining that the withdrawal of the advertisement would hit the very people – the poor and the disadvantaged – who are unlikely to use the internet.

MORE proof that the CNJ is the best-read paper in Camden has come in details of a recent survey carried out by Camden Council.

Asked about “local media sources”, the survey showed the CNJ is “most often used”. Altogether, according to the survey, a third of residents (31 per cent) read the CNJ on a “regular basis” compared to nine per cent who read the council’s publication, Your Camden, which is put out 11 months a year.

MEANWHILE, a government paper sent to all local authorities in Britain suggests they consider using the internet to publish public notices.

The recommendation is based on research carried out in one borough – Camden.
The survey revealed that only 1.4 per cent of residents in Camden stated they knew of public notices through a newspaper.
The only newspaper carrying public notices in the borough is the Ham and High, which won a tender in competition with the CNJ several years ago, apparently offering space at a fraction of the usual price charged by weekly newspapers.

The Editor writes:

A question of press freedom in the balance

WE have been here before.
In the 1990s Camden Council tried to throttle the Camden New Journal following critical articles that had appeared in the paper.
It advertised public notices less frequently, thus spending less revenue with the CNJ. Senior officers also banned the distribution of the paper within the Town Hall. We went public and argued our corner, attracting support from a wide spectrum of the population.

That battle was won.

Recently we have upbraided council plans to sell-off care homes for the elderly and auction off the ‘family silver’ of street properties.
We have also shown how wrong it is for the council to ignore the loud pleas by parents for a secondary school in the south of the borough where there is none.
Now, all signs suggest the new Lib Dem-Tory coalition are repeating what their predecessors tried and failed to achieve.
They are trying to syphon off revenue from the CNJ (See page 6) by withdrawing the weekly advertisement which allows tenants to bid for lettings.
This is a public service advertisement, but the council appears not to be concerned with its duty to serve the public – an ethos espoused by all good civil servants.
The political rulers appear to be more interested in attempting to stifle the voice of this newspaper.

A newspaper should do its best to reflect the readership it reaches out to.
Our paper has grown over the years. We are the most popular paper in Camden. We have won several awards. Even the council’s own latest survey shows we are the best-read paper in the borough.

We are not owned by a large publishing group – unlike the Ham and High.
We are the only independently-owned mainstream weekly paper in Britain.
We, as a company limited by guarantee, are the only “non-profit distributing” weekly paper in Britain. A proprietor cannot dictate our editorial stance. There are no shareholders to wield influence.

The council will argue its withdrawal of advertisements is on economic grounds. There are many councillors – Lib-Demers and Labour – who would probably disagree.
We can only repeat that our editorial policy will remain unchanged

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