Press Gazette report was not an attack on the PR industry - but it does highlight a worrying trend

Press Gazette’s report revealing there are at least 3,400 PR and marketing staff working in local Government has been wrongly interpreted as an attack on the PR industry (by the CIPR and by Cormac Smith in a blog post on this site).

It is an attack on no-one. It is a news report (based on a painstakingly thorough piece of research by news editor William Turvill using the Freedom of Information Act).

That said, I do think the report highlights a matter of public concern.

Thousands of jobs have been cut from UK regional newspapers over the last decade. Thankfully many journalists have found alternative (often better paid) employment with local authorities. And of course local authorities need effective communications. 

But I worry that people are less well informed when they find out about the activities of local councils from the authorities themselves rather than from local media.

In-house marketing and PR teams are no replacement for independent, probing local journalists.

The hollowing out of local newspaper reporting teams is certainly not the fault of local government. And in some areas councils have felt the need to move into the vacuum created by the loss of local newspapers (there has been a net loss of around 200 local newspaper titles over the last decade).

I wonder if we should be thinking of bigger national answers to the threat which the loss of professional independent journalism from some areas poses to democracy and society. 

The answer isn’t less local authority communications, it is more local journalism.

This could be funded with the tax breaks Chancellor George Osborne has spoken about, by making the BBC pay for a resource which it currently takes for free or by asking Google to share some of the billions in advertising revenue it has taken out of regional media as a result of technological change.

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