Readers have kindly expressed their appreciation for the Citizen’s dogged coverage of fire safety post-Grenfell.
But some have questioned whether our stories about the council’s freesheet Hackney Today are worthwhile.
As one reader writes: “I fully support your articles on important issues such as fire safety… They are the issues that concern me and my neighbours and not the Hackney Today freesheet.”
However, what this misses is how Hackney Today is threatening the Citizen’s ability to do the very public interest journalism readers value.
As the London Assembly’s recent report on ‘The Fate of Local News’ observed: “Local newspapers have, in some cases, been negatively affected by local authorities regularly publishing their own newsletters. While these newsletters have their place, they should not be a substitute for local news.”
It adds: “Local authorities should not be afraid of their critics and should instead choose to support local newspapers by advertising and making announcements through them.”
Most local papers do not have to compete for advertising with a £400,000 council operation delivered free to residents’ doors.
Hackney Today is also defying a government directive to cut back to quarterly publication. This use of public resources demands scrutiny in its own right. But it also has serious implications for local democracy: If independent papers suffer, residents will have to rely on Hackney Today to scrutinise the council on fire safety.