A SHIVER ran down the spine for the one or two hacks listening in at a Lib Dem conference fringe meeting on the advance of technology in political campaigning here in Brighton this morning. While Paddy Ashdown could be found railing about being the first MP to use a computer at the Commons only to find himself now in a party faring worse at the ‘new technologies’ than the Greens, UKIP and Momentum (Labour are regularly being given that label at this conference), Mark Pack, the Lib Dems’ top blogger, had some advice: Become the local media.
“The death of the local media creates an opportunity for us. Local newspapers are down on their uppers,” he explained to a busy meeting held in a suite at the Metropole hotel. “Even those that are doing relatively well financially, you can look at the circulation of papers in terms of a proportion of the electorate and there is a possibility for local campaigning. Look at the number of people who read their local paper, and in some cases it is a shockingly low number, shocking because of what that can mean to holding local councils accounts. But it means there is an opportunity for you [Lib Dem campaigners] to become the local media. If you have a local paper that gets hardly any readership and we have a well-run email newsletter, you are the Rupert Murdoch of that constituency.”
Mark is of course right about the decline of the local press across the country, the threat to the industry is real. He comes from Haringey, for example, where the printing presses in recent years have stopped on titles in Hornsey and in Tottenham; a warning sign for places like Camden which has so far retained a more plural, congested, and I’d say lively media marketplace. Mark went on to say he knew of a Lib Dem candidate who had an email list larger than the number of votes he needed to win an election, and as such had a “grip” on the local media.
You can see why becoming the main source of news would appeal to any political party, but, as Mark suggests when he mentions the importance of holding town halls to account, what does it mean for a more balanced, open press if news is to be filtered through one political party’s view. Another reason, and of course I would say this, to support good, local newspapers, especially one which put readers at the heart of the content they produce. I know of one in Camden which still has a healthy circulation and a good response rate.