How the Shopper lost a bargain

Sorry for the lack of exciting updates this week – attention’s been elsewhere, and I’m sure you’ve more exciting things to read than another whine about bins. But I did trot down to Woolwich Town Hall on behalf of to see what was going on at Wednesday’s council meeting.

As you’ll see, Greenwich Time came up, getting a lashing from opposition councillors while the council leader attempted to give the News Shopper a lashing. Except he managed to get the publisher wrong, criticising Kentish Times publisher Archant when its rival Newsquest produces the Petts Wood-based paper.

Unfortunately… the News Shopper wasn’t there to hear itself criticised in the meeting. Its rival, the Mercury, was represented, but despite launching an attack on the council in last week’s paper, it didn’t show to see if anybody made any political capital out of it. Bearing in mind that it’s accepted journalistic wisdom that council meetings and courts are the bedrock of what a local paper should do, it does undermime its attack on Greenwich Time if it isn’t going to follow up the story by attending a council meeting.

I still agree with what it said, but the News Shopper has to raise its game and actually attend these meetings if its attacks on Greenwich Time are to maintain their credibility.

The sad thing is that it is not hard to go to a council meeting and get stories out of them – almost all the things discussed there have direct relevance to the lives of the people of Greenwich borough. Commuters who use Blackheath station may be pleased to hear that councillors spent half an hour discussing the recent cut of services there. There was some roundabout discussion about ice and grit from the snow, and how the council coped with that and its decision to prioritise gritting roads over pavements. There’s a nice story about a 13-year-old getting the council to consider building a skate park in Eltham, a petition about a dangerous road in Eltham (Court Road, should you be interested), fears expressed about asbestos and the Ferrier Estate demolition, and there was a full-blown row about second homes and empty council housing. And a few digs at Bexley, as is traditional. Together with the stuff chosen for, that’s a fair chunk of the paper written.

The News Shopper isn’t the only paper to come up short – the Mercury’s stablemate, the South London Press, didn’t show at the last Lambeth Council meeting – despite the paper being a bitter critic of that council’s house newspaper.

Getting to the nub of how things are decided in Greenwich borough is a tough one. I’ve been directed to council meetings via a fire escape in the past, and the supply of papers to help residents follow council meetings is erratic to say the least, with questions not being published online or being placed in the council chamber. Proper coverage by both our local newspapers would be a step forward, but it’s not one they seem to be willing to take.

Incidentally, Lewisham Council voted on Wednesday to investigate the possibilities of webcasting and podcasting its meetings (a Green motion but one that seems to have had cross-party support). I think it’s a great idea. I hope Greenwich councillors are taking note.

I’d like to take that further – ever seen the BBC’s Democracy Live? It’s a wonderful invention, but seems limited by focusing on national and European government – even the London mayor’s question time isn’t featured live. (It’s little known, but you can also watch all parliamentary committees live on, well, Parliament Live.) It’s never going to beat Coronation Street in the ratings, but if local councils and the BBC could team up, so you could watch your own councillors in action, it’d be a great contribution to democracy.

And who knows, it might even help local journalists cover these meetings too. It saves waiting for the bus outside Woolwich Town Hall in the rain…


  1. Totally agree that webcasting (or similar technology) has to be the way forward for local democracy. A simpler, better and cheaper solution than council-funded newspapers.

  2. As I tweeted on the night (and before I saw the news from Lewisham) I’m a firm believer in webcasting and will be putting a question down at Council this month on it. If anyone’s there to report it…

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