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There are two sides to this story

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My nephew, Louis, is an enigmatic seven year-old whose class was asked by his teacher to finish the sentence: “In 2009 I will,”

Most of his classmates came up with responses such as: “I will get a puppy”. Not Louis.

His contribution was: “In 2009 I will,get my revenge”. Then he added quickly: “And I will do my letters better.”

I thought of this when reflecting on the parlous state of the local newspaper industry.

Northcliffe is losing 1,000 jobs.

Trinity Mirror has closed more than 30 local papers.

For some councillors, this is sweet revenge. Seasoned PR chiefs know hell hath no fury like a council leader waving a headline in the local paper. Now councils are getting the blame for nabbing all the advertising.

Culture secretary Andy Burnham told the Scarborough Evening News the issue of local authority titles was “top of my in-tray”.

“There has to be a balance and councils are overstepping that,” he said. “The Evening News says it faces competition from council titles ‘designed and produced to mimic newspapers’.”

He has asked the Local Government Association to discuss the issue. No doubt the LGA will also ask Mr Burnham why his government has spent years telling councils they should publish their own papers to improve access to information.

Now that councils are, in the words of my nephew, “doing their letters better”, are they to be blamed for the demise of the local paper?

The Newspaper Society is lobbying hard. Not only has it put the council issue on the agenda but it has seen off a plan by the BBC to develop local video websites on the grounds that it would damage local media.

Jeremy Hunt , the Conservatives’ culture spokesman, agreed: “These plans, would have done enormous damage to a struggling local newspaper industry.”

He might have added “especially with less than a year to go to a general election when the major parties need to make soothing noises to the press”.

David Newell, director of the Newspaper Society, said the BBC proposal “would have severely reduced consumers’ media choice and the rich tapestry of local news and information provision in the UK”.

Yet readership of local papers has been declining for years.

The availability of free papers, online news and the recession’s effect on advertising have all taken their toll.

And for every council running a vaguely commercial publishing operation there are another 50 where the financial effect of the council publication on the local paper has had all the impact of a flea on an elephant.

The response of newspaper owners to falling readership has been to cut jobs ruthlessly.

Council press officers spend a lot of time challenging inaccuracies from poorly trained and badly paid local journalists, some of whom switch from poacher to better-paid gamekeeper by joining the council’s team at the earliest opportunity.

I love local papers, but they are not plucky little publications slugging it out with the municipal machine. They are owned by huge corporations which, like councils, face a changing local environment.

By blaming authorities for their demise, are newspaper proprietors only telling one side of the story?

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