Council reporting – who is going to do it?

This is the fourth in our series of blogposts on the C&binet conference in London which took place last week. Following on from the first session on the state of newspapers and value of news, the issue of council reporting was raised in discussion.

With the decline of regional news coverage are we in danger of losing reports which hold the local council to account. Someone asked how much council reporting was actually going on anyway – are we seeing local reporting though rose-tinted glasses and not realising how little is done by regional media. Some councils actively try to stamp out probing news coverage by refusing journalists access to certain meetings and councillors.

Councils need to be open to bloggers and hyperlocal reporters and treat them like other news organisations (which is by no means an ideal relationship either) – by being given access to council meetings and documents and councillors themselves.Live-streaming council meetings (with a permanent easy to use archive)  was agreed as a way to allow both journalists and active citizens to get hold of material to analyse and identify issues worthy of reporting or campaigning.

But can we rely on volunteerism for reporting civic justice and public affairs?

Someone pointed out many print newspapers rely on work experience and forms of volunteerism to do even their most investigative journalism (interns worked on the Daily Telegraph’s MP’s expenses story and the Guardian saw hundreds of volunteers analyse the original data from the same story once it was released.)

But councils are also publishing their own print material.

Some argue council newspapers should be banned altogether, like William Perrin from Talk About Local (below). While others believe with increased transparency between local authorities and the public in the form of releasing government data, councils and journalists are free to present the information in whichever way they see fit.

Reporting council meetings isn’t just about documenting what was said. Journalists hang around before and afterwards speaking to councillors, double checking facts and comments and making sure they know exactly what’s going on behind what was said in the public domain.

Paul Bradshaw has suggested council news network – making sure the standard of council reporting information is to a standard of reporting which we would expect from publicly funded organisations, such as the BBC.

All were agreed something needed to be done as the landscape of news changes to ensure council meetings were made available to the public in the way they desire.