(These thoughts were gathered back before Christmas, but following some discussion on Twitter with Kathryn Louise Geels, I thought I'd publish them.)
'Twas the night (or two) before Christmas
Two days before Christmas day, the Department for Communities and Local Government put out a notice of a consultation with a foreword by Eric Pickles MP, who runs the department.
It's titled 'Councils and media invited to bring statutory notices into 21st century' - something that many in the hyperlocal world have been encouraging for quite some years. Given this, hopes were initially high.
Having read the documents, I find it hard to see this as a serious attempt to really change things or open the market to others such as new small media organisation.
It comes across to me more as an attempt to transitions the local media groups into bringing Statutory Notices into the digital age, while maintaining their central role in it - possibly giving council/government a bit of a price reduction in the process, by threatening a little competition to them.
Below is a few chunks of text from "Statutory Notices for the 21st Century: Invitation to express an interest in becoming a pilot" (PDF) that led me to this.
- "We may invite an independent person and officials from (list of five-ish names including) ... News Media Association ... to assist in the evaluation of Expressions of Interest. "
(News Media Association: The self-proclaimed "voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK" )
- "We think that it is likely, given the timetable, that a pilot will need the co-operation of a number of partners to be successful, particularly the local authorities and newspapers within the pilot area."
- "You will need to meet the assessment criteria set out earlier but when finalising recommendations for the Secretary of State we will also consider the overall number and nature of Expressions of Interest to achieve an appropriate balance across the pilots of ... different media groups, and ..."
Leaving aside the just-before-Christmas timingss of this, none of the above sound particularly healthy to me, especially the first, where a rep from the trade body of the current local media companies could well be involved in deciding if new competition are allowed in. Seems deeply flawed.