This is a critical examination of the impact of sustained large-scale austerity cuts on local government communications in the UK. Budget constraints have left public sector media teams without the resources for robust citizen-facing communications. The "nose for news" has been downgraded and local journalists, once the champions of public interest coverage, are a force much diminished. The book asks, what is lost to local democracy as a result? And what does it mean when no one is holding the country’s public spenders to account?
The authors present extensive interviews with communications professionals working across different council authorities. These offer important insights into the challenges currently being faced by communicators within local public services. The book also includes in-depth case studies on the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Rotherham child-grooming scandal and the Sheffield tree-felling controversy. These events all raise serious questions about the scrutiny and accountability of local authorities and the important role the media can and does play.
Local Democracy, Journalism and Public Relations provides new empirical data on, and the real-world views of, working communications teams in local government today. For students and researchers interested in local journalism and public relations, the book illuminates the current relationship between these professions, local democracy and political accountability.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction to Local Government Accountability: The role of public relations and the media Adrian Roxan
2. The History and Evolution of Local Government and Local Democracy Adrian Roxan
3. The Rise of Public Relations and the Impact of the Austerity Years Adrian Roxan
4. Local Media Decline: A ‘sector in crisis’? Carmel O'Toole
5. Views from the Foothills Carmel O'Toole
6. Today’s Newsroom: Adapting to digital Carmel O'Toole
7. Case studies: Grenfell, Child Sex Exploitation and Sheffield Tree-Felling
8. Summary and conclusions Carmel O'Toole and Adrian Roxan
Carmel O’Toole has worked in journalism and public relations for public and private sector organisations, including local government and Channel 4, since 1979. She is a Senior Lecturer in Public Relations at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. Her research interests include local media and crisis communications management.
Adrian Roxan is a journalist and public relations practitioner. He has worked as a journalist and in the field of public relations for more than 40 years in local government, the NHS and central government. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Public Relations at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. His research interests include the media and its role in politics.
"This book lays bare the ‘democratic deficit’ that ensues when local newspapers no longer properly hold councils up to scrutiny. The less accountable public servants are the worse their decision-making becomes – and as a society we are the poorer for it." -- Tim Minogue, Editor, 'Rotten Boroughs', Private Eye
"This important book shines a light on one of the great tragedies of the modern media age – the decline of local journalism – and it explains what that means for democracy and accountability. In the age of ubiquitous free information many local communities are less well informed today than they were in the age of steam." -- Dominic Ponsford, Editor, UK Press Gazette
"Like the authors, I learned my trade on a local newspaper and even became a specialist 'municipal correspondent' covering council affairs. Much as the decline of the regional press fills me with despair, it is vital for our democracy that we find new ways of holding power to account in local communities. This timely analysis of the impact of emptying press benches in our town halls during the austerity years offers rich food for thought on how we might do so." -- David Brindle, Public Services Editor, The Guardian
"It is essential that local authorities are able to communicate what they are doing and that local media can hold them to account. This book demonstrates how both are at threat, to the detriment of local democracy and ultimately the day-to-day lives of citizens." -- Matt Tee, Chief Executive, IPSO