Spin, smoke-filled rooms, and the decline of council reporting by British local newspapers: the slow demise of town hall transparency.
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MORRISON, J. 2011. Spin, smoke-filled rooms, and the decline of council reporting by British local newspapers: the slow demise of town hall transparency. In Charles, A. and Stewart, G. The end of journalism. Oxford: Peter Lang [online], pages 193-210. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0150-2
If there is one realm of public life in which the provincial press has long justified the mantle 'fourth estate' it is in fulfilling its time-honoured role as principal scrutinizer (and critic) of local government. For generations, regional newspapers in the UK, mainland Europe and the United States have been our primary sources of information on the deliberations and decisions of local authorities - and our channels for dissent over wayward procedures, policies, and politicking. Yet, as we enter the second decade of a new century - a brave new digital world in which it should be easier than ever for journalists to keep us abreast of the activities of councillors and of ficials - in England and Wales at least, local papers appear increasingly neutered. Surveys point to a dramatic decline in the amount of space and time they are devoting to council coverage and the steady demise of dedicated local government correspondents. This chapter argues that these developments can be blamed, in part, on recent reforms to the way councils in the two countries conduct their business. Tony Blair's Local Government Act (HM Stationery Office 2000a) ushered in cabinet-style council executives based on the model used by the UK's national administration, at the same time exempting them from meeting in public unless discussing major decisions they intended to take collectively.