Fulham and Hammersmith Council 'surprised' as Trinity steps up its campaign against its freesheet

Trinity Mirror’s Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle has stepped up its campaign against its local council’s publishing strategy with the launch of an outdoor advertising campaign.

The regional publisher will, for two weeks, run a campaign at 48 key sites around the borough, it said today, in protest against the existence of H&F News, a free fortnightly paper published by Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

Launching its campaign last week, the Trinity Mirror-run paper ran a front page slash complaining at the ‘cost and threat to democracy this [existence of H&F News] poses to the borough’s residents, local businesses and politicians.”

Speaking to Press Gazette this morning, Simon Jones, head of communications with Hammersmith & Fulham Council, said it was ‘surprised’by the sudden attack against the council freesheet, which is delivered to 75,000 homes in the borough each fortnight.

He said: ‘Our view is that Trinity Mirror had shown no sign of investing in journalism or interest in our area in about ten years…we do find it strange.”

Jones said H&F News was switched from a monthly to a fortnightly title last May to ‘fill the communication void’created in the borough by Trinity Mirror.

Until it took the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle free in January, the paper had a circulation of just 1,257 copies.

Jones said he welcomed the move by Trinity Mirror to take its paper free, as it would reach more local residents, but said H&F News had gone fortnightly as the readership Trinity Mirror delivered in a borough of 175,000 residents ‘wasn’t good enough for us”.

H&F News was ‘well-liked’by residents, he said, and helped reduce the amount spent placing ‘very high cost’public notices in the local papers.

‘Subsidising local papers with enormously high rate [public notices] is not what tax payers want. They want value for money from the council,’he added.

Earlier this year, London councils questioned attacks Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey made again council-run newspapers – highlighting how her group prints several of them (H&F News is printed by Archant).

Bailey had told the Guardian that council-run papers were “mini Pravdas”. Trinity Mirror has continued to focus its attack along editorial lines.

Simon Edgley, managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, said: ‘We have always maintained that while we support the council’s statutory obligation to communicate its activities to residents we don’t believe it should present its views in a way that suggests H&F News is an impartial news observer.

‘The format, content and frequency of the H&F News is quite clearly intended to look and feel like a genuine newspaper, which of course it is not.

‘It is outrageous that the council is using taxpayers’ money to produce a publication that masquerades as a newspaper but which instead produces biased council spin.”

The issue of council-run papers rears its head every couple of months. In January, the Audit Commission found that local authorities were not wasting or misusing public money through the publication of council-run newspapers  (Press Gazette pointed out at the time that the issue was going in circles).

But the move failed to draw a line under the subject. Earlier this month, the Scottish parliament dropped plans to shift advertising to the internet and said public notices will continue to be published in local and regional newspapers in Scotland as opposition to the plan had proved too great.

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