So how can the local press find a voice during elections while remaining neutral? At Trinity Mirror, the company I work for, we turned to readers and asked them to help shape local manifestos which have run in 24 of our titles.
The idea was simple: Get issues which matter to local readers heard. And while in this diary I’ve been rather critical of the efforts of Prime Minister David Cameron to engage with the local press, there’s no denying that’s exactly what he did when he visited Teesside earlier this week.
The local title there, the Teesside Gazette, co-opted both Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband into supporting their call for people to take part in the manifesto survey – and got the PM to answer each manifesto demand point by point on his trip to the southern end of the North East earlier this week.
Labour, never to be outdone if they can help it, went one better in responding to the Gazette’s election manifesto, sending shadow chancellor Ed Balls to the Gazette’s offices to deal with the issues point by point. Like Mr Cameron, he too was happy to pose with the Gazette’s Manifesto emblem:
Parts of Teesside are key marginals in the general election, but (work loyalties to one side) it’s great to see politicians responding to the local media putting the voices of readers forward so vocally.
Talking of office visits, where should a prime minister shying away from taking part in leadership debates on national TV go to get out of the way ahead of them being broadcast?
Answer: The Yorkshire Post offices of course! The PM called in on the Leeds-based Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post and was pictured getting the grand tour from editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford yesterday afternoon:
Up until now I’d assumed that the Tories didn’t understand just how many readers local news organisations have these days. Hopefully Cameron has been disabused of this having seen the YP’s Chartbeat screen in action.
That said, a colleague reminded me the other day that Cameron doesn’t really have an excuse not to realise just how many people digital newsrooms reach these days – here’s a shot of Cameron getting the Birmingham Post and Mail tour in 2012 and having Chartbeat explained to him by Birmingham Post editor Stacey Barnfield:
The concerned look on Cameron’s face probably had something to do with Aston Villa, and it was certainly on his mind when he returned the the Post and Mail earlier this year – as this chat with sports writer Mat Kendrick revealed.
The serious point being that the different approach to different regional newspapers is all a little baffling from the PM.
You have just one vote. And just one candidate
Nominations day normally brings more surprises on general election years than regular council election years with unusual candidates cropping up all over the place.
However, it’s the council elections which have drawn most attention at the East Anglian Daily Times which noted five council seats would effectively go uncontested as just one candidate for each has stepped forward:
Similar stories have cropped up elsewhere in the regional press this week, with the Melton Times in Leicestershire reporting that eight out of 10 rural seats on Melton Borough Council will go uncontested, while the Express and Echo in Exeter reports more seats will go uncontested than will be contested at East Devon Council
Parish councils are in an even worse position – with Bourne Town Council in Lincolnshire being in the almost unique position of having no-one standing for election in a ward which has been newly created to cover a new housing estate which has been developed on the edge of the town.
All a little frightening, isn’t it?
Put some sex into politics
Headlines which write themselves are often hard to come by in elections, but this one from the Bristol Post was a cracker:
And then there’s this headline which, lets be frank, has just been waiting to happen for UKIP:
After all, it would have been quite wrong for the Milton Keynes Citizen to look a gift horse like that right in the mouth, wouldn’t it?
What’s the best thing a visiting star politician can say about you when he’s in town? That you’re hard-working? Committed? Passionate?
How about likening you to a weapon of mass destruction. Really.
That’s what Paddy Ashdown did when down in Dorset in one of the seats the party hopes it will keep:
I guess there are worse things to be called in the local paper – in this case the Dorset Echo – than a ‘little atom bomb’ although nothing springs to mind at the moment.