Ignored by the party leaders? Maybe local journalism needs to come off the fence

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Local journalism has long been proud of its impartiality when it comes to covering elections. But in failing to see that it’s possible to offer endorsements while still providing balanced coverage, aren’t we effectively making ourselves irrelevant in the most important local conversation of all?

An investigation into the access afforded to local journalists by political parties was published The Bureau of Investigative Journalism on Friday. It concluded that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were short-changing local journalists during the general election.

This won’t come as a surprise to many local journalists – indeed, the Bureau began looking into the issue, and spoke to dozens of local journalists, on the back of hearing about Cornwall Live’s experience with prime minister Theresa May early in the campaign. May’s people refused permission for the website to film the PM, and kept reporters well away from much of the visit.

The Bureau concluded that May has done interviews with regional media, but often has little of substance to say. Plymouth Herald chief reporter Sam Blackledge summed up the experience I’m sure many have experienced brilliantly here. Corbyn, on the other hand, has done fewer interviews, but has given better answers according to some.

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I’ve seen examples which contradict both conclusions – May certainly delivered an answer to ChronicleLive’s Mike Kelly when he opened a press conference with a zinger of a question, while Corbyn made it quite clear he had no intention of talking to BBC North West Tonight when he visited Salford, and the subsequent package on the evening news (which I can’t find online) should shame the Labour Party.

But there’s no denying it’s becoming harder with each election that passes to get the national parties to take the local press seriously. The election of 2005, when I interviewed Tony Blair the day before the poll as was impressed by his apparent depth of knowledge about local issues, seems much longer ago than the 12 years which have passed. Cynics at the time said ‘he was just well briefed.’ These days, even that would be nice.

So what do we do about it, and why is this the case? I suspect local interviews are seen as a potential banana skin to be avoided at all costs. Much better (for the campaign) to be seen in Huddersfield, in front of a hand-picked audience of factory workers, preaching about issues which match the surroundings than risk actually engaging in those local issues.

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The council which finds it too expensive to hire its own sports centre for the local election count

The local elections have been a busy time for the regional news websites I work with – not just in terms of amount of work but also users visiting the sites. Despite low turnouts at the polls, audience data suggests an interest in local politics at a level we haven’t seen previously – a bounce caused by UKIP or because so many counts now happen during the day?

Amid the many stories we’ve published over the past few days, this one from the Huddersfield Examiner really sticks in the memory – the council which finds its own sports centre too expensive to hire, and hires a cheaper church instead.

Kirklees Council is hiring space in a church to count election votes today – and it’s cheaper than hiring two halls it owns.

Previously election ballots have been counted at town halls or Huddersfield and Dewsbury sport centres – the latter are buildings Kirklees owns but are managedby Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL).

Kirklees Council say the move is the “significantly” cheaper option and a spokesman added: “Cathedral House is a bigger, better and more cost-effective venue to hold the elections as all the counts could be in one place, along with all the security.

“Kirklees Active Leisure is a company, separate to Kirklees Council, so when the council used it for election counts the council had to pay to hire it like anyone else, and there was also the issue of the loss of revenue because the rest of the sports centre would have to shut too.”

How odd that this has only become an issue this year.