A quick rummage through the pages of this week's Carmarthen Journal showed that the newspaper must be raking in the advertising revenue at the moment, with pages and pages of special advertising features and other promotions. Rather more difficult to find were actual news stories, which is generally pretty high up on most people's list of reasons for buying a local newspaper.
Reading the blog of the great Robert Lloyd, elder statesman of journalism in Carmarthenshire, suggests that those of us who still naively cling to a belief that local newspapers are about reliable reporting of local news need to wake up and smell the coffee, at least as far as the titles belonging to the Local World group are concerned (the Journal, Llanelli Star and South Wales Evening Post).
Robert carries the text, without comment, of a bizarre, jargon-ladened fatwa delivered by the group's chairman, David Montgomery, to the earthlings who work for the newspapers. Here is what he has to say, for example, about reporting crime and police stories:
"the publisher acts as the main conduit for police information of every
type - not for the odd photofit in a dramatic crime but for all humdrum
information like crime prevention that the police seek to promote. In
return the journalist will offer an attractive platform for this content
and a large measure of control presumably by the police information
In non-Newspeak what that seems to mean is that the newspapers will create a nicely designed platform (something Mr Montgomery reckons most 12 year-olds can do nowadays) into which the PR merchants can channel their output, pretty much free of editorial interference.
In case that message was not altogether clear, Mr Montgomery adds, "the senior journalists. ...will extend further the principle of
partnership, with third party institutions supplying an increasing amount
That does not mean to say, he says, that the newspapers won't report on things that the police bosses don't like, but the relationship between the press and police will be "insulation from the inevitable stresses and strains between the media and the public services".
Just in case you think he is talking just about the relationship between the press and the police (rather a hot topic in recent times), he goes on to make it clear that this new approach to journalism will extend to all sorts of other public bodies, such as health boards, sports clubs, schools, businesses large and small and presumably, although he does not say so, local government.
They will churn out their press releases and have a large measure of control over how they appear in the Journal, etc.
In other words, the newspapers will be very much like the good old Carmarthenshire News, but with rather more advertising.
Come to think of it, that's not far off what we have today. After the Carmarthen Journal got into trouble with the control-freaks in County Hall a couple of times for running stories the council top brass did not like, Cneifiwr was reliably informed that an understanding had been reached whereby the newspaper would generally print what the council wanted us to hear in return for lots of lovely advertising. As a fig-leaf, the newspaper retained the right to report on stories the council is less keen on, occasionally even from a critical angle.
Needless to say, that right has not been exercised in the last couple of years, and the partnership policy is now set to be extended to Hywel Dda Health Board, companies and other champions of free speech and transparency.
While Mr Montgomery's message is full of talk of segments, enrichment of the user experience and the need to acutely align content with the commercial operation, readers will search in vain for old-fashioned terms such as independence and integrity.