Greenwich Council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time, has only weeks left to live – but the council’s communications empire is actually expanding by taking on work for another London borough.
GT will close in its current format next month after an out-of-court settlement with the Government, which has outlawed “town hall Pravdas”.
But, weeks before the end, Greenwich Time’s advertising team has started selling ad space in Hackney Council’s fortnightly paper, Hackney Today.
The names of GT’s highly-regarded ad team, Nicola McGuire and Gaynor Granger, appear as advertising contacts in recent editions of the east London council’s paper.
Independent local paper Hackney Citizen reports that this is a “temporary arrangement” while Hackney looks for a new ad sales person for its fortnightly paper, with Greenwich receiving a cut of the revenue.
Greenwich’s insistence on publishing Greenwich Time weekly saw it become an early target for former communities secretary Sir Eric Pickles’ war on such papers, which can now only be published four times a year. The only other council weekly in England, Tower Hamlets’ East End Life, closed this week.
Hackney is one of a band of councils who continue to defy the law by publishing fortnightly, and have been threatened with action by chancellor George Osborne, who recently allowed local newspaper premises to allow for business rate relief in an attempt to boost the sector.
It’s not thought any premises in Greenwich borough will qualify (neither Lewisham nor Bexley have any local newspaper premises either) and with Greenwich Council still active in seeking advertising for council publications – and strongly encouraging partner organisations not to place ads with rivals – any new entrant will still find life difficult.
As for Greenwich Time, it remains stubbornly wedded to the agenda of council reputation management over information, with the current edition even ignoring the sinkhole that appeared in Charlton last week, along with printing an out-of-date “what’s on” guide. With some residents not getting the paper until Friday, five days after publication, much of what’s inside is old news by the time it limps onto doormats.
The council leadership is keeping its cards close to its chest on plans for the future. For all the Tories’ bluster over council papers, it took several years to kill off weekly town hall papers and it will no doubt be looking to push the out of court settlement to the letter.
The settlement says the council can publish “regular and frequent communications to those residents who choose to receive such information by whatever medium they they decide (eg, paper or electronic) providing it does not have the appearance of a newspaper, newsletter or similar publication”.
Neighbouring Lewisham has published a weekly email for some years (you can subscribe here and have a chance of winning a trip to Diggerland, the inspiration for the Lewisham Gateway scheme) supported by quarterly magazine Lewisham Life. A tie-up with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the not-for-profit group that runs leisure centres and libraries, has also long been mooted.
Another option is a tie-up with an existing local paper. The Mercury’s publishers have long been keen on recapturing the council’s advertising budget, lost many years ago.
The Mercury was recently bought from octogenarian local news baron Ray Tindle by its South London Press management, quietly reversing his eccentric policy of publishing “hyperlocal” editions for certain areas of Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs and more recently giving the ailing paper a much-needed redesign.
The Greenwich edition of the Streatham-based paper now carries the words “Royal Borough of Greenwich” above the masthead, while it also recently featured a worthy “get fit and stay healthy with Royal Greenwich” supplement – also inflicted on Lewisham readers – no doubt intended as a demonstration of what it could do. This week’s edition features a similar supplement, “Let’s do business in Royal Greenwich”.
Whether this will lead to a tie-up between the council and the Mercury remains to be seen. Greenwich residents will find out by the end of June. But for now, Greenwich Time’s ad sales department doesn’t seem to be going away.