Wednesday 27 June 2012

Dog bites man

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that it has been a little quieter than usual. One reason for that is that there appears to be very little news about.

The County Council went into election purdah in March of this year and has still not really emerged on the other side. Only one meeting of the full county council has taken place in the last four months, apart from the mutual back-slapping and fancy dress competition which was the AGM.

To date not one of the 5 scrutiny committees has met or even got around to publishing an agenda for their first meeting, whenever that might be.

Of the 9 executive board member decision meetings, only two have got round to holding a meeting to decide anything (dishing out grants for holiday cottages and appointing school governors).

The Executive Board, which holds brief public rubber-stamping meetings to approve (always unanimously) decisions which are taken at closed meetings, has so far met twice to discuss nothing much at all.

The County Hall press office, which can usually be relied on to throw out political propaganda and spin, has been reduced to pumping out an endless stream of headlines such as "Woman fined for dog fouling" or "Man fined for dropping cigarette end", or even "Five fined for dropping cigarette ends".

The only light relief has been County Hall's desperate attempts to associate itself with Olympic hurdler Dai Greene. Currently the Council is encouraging us to "Spot Dai Greene - join the fun and help find him!" This is about a cardboard cutout of the athlete which council officers have taken to trying to hide in a shopping centre. Yes, really.

Anyone hoping that the local press might tell us what is going on in searing exposes, serious investigative pieces or robust editorials will be disappointed if they turn to the pages of the venerable Carmarthen Journal.

Here is a selection of recent headlines:

"Cigarette Butts Warning - 5 fined for dropping cigarette ends" (funny, that rings a bell, doesn't it?)
"Council Leader and Garnant Councillor Kevin Madge will hold a surgery"
"Age no barrier" - a puff for 23 year-old Labour councillor Calum Higgins
"Leader's praise for Shane's MBE" - Kevin Madge tries to muscle in on Shane Williams' MBE.
"Meet Councillor" - a chance to meet Labour councillor Colin Evans

And that's about as exciting as it gets. For some strange reason, only Labour councillors seem to hold surgeries in the pages of the Journal.

Shane Williams' MBE had been reported previously, and a follow-up would only have been newsworthy if Kevin Madge had (let's use some journalese here) snubbed or slammed the award.

The only story with potential for anything more interesting was the Calum Higgins piece. The full headline gives you a pretty good idea of the drool that follows:

"Age is no barrier as young gun proves his worth on the council"

Calum Higgins was elected as Labour councillor for Tycroes in May, and he is the youngest councillor at 23.

In addition to being a county councillor, he works for AM Keith Davies, who as we know has been in the news quite a lot recently. Perhaps Calum could have been asked to spill the beans on just how the old boy managed to party all through the night and much of the morning with a raucous lady friend in tow. Was it all down to Sanatogen?

According to disgraced Labour candidate Shahid Hussein, the Labour young guns would occasionally go clubbing and freestyling in Cardiff. Did Keith join them? And for the benefit of older Tycroes residents, just what is freestyle?

And in addition to being a county councillor and part-time employee of Keith Davies AM, Calum is also a full-time law student in Cardiff. How does he do it?

Sadly, we do not know the answers to these and other interesting questions. As what the Journal's style book probably calls a "youngster", it would have been interesting to hear his views on the social media. Calum uses Twitter, for example, but one of his bosses, Kevin Madge, believes that it is the work of the devil. What does Calum think about filming council meetings?

The Journal's editor, Cathryn Ings, resigned suddenly and left the paper at very short notice in mid-May to "pursue other opportunities". Since then the poor old paper has been wallowing about as the search for a new captain goes on.

Like most local papers, the Journal is under huge pressure from its owners to cut costs and corners, and the recent loss of its (shared) politics reporter is making it look like a one-man-and-a-dog operation. Rumour has it that the dog is hoping to be re-housed soon too.

Circulation has been falling for some time. In 2009 it was around 19,000. In the second half of 2011 it fell by 11% to just under 16,500.

Unlike most local papers, the Journal also has to cope with a local authority which has come as close as a council in a western democracy can to using the sort of tactics more usually seen in third world dictatorships. True, Cathryn Ings did not end up floating face-first down the Towy, but by the end of her tenure, the threats and the bullying meant that real editorial control had passed up the road to County Hall which is known to have told the paper what it should and should not print on several recent occasions.

Anyone interested in taking the job on will need to be willing to turn their hands to everything from reporting to office cleaning and come without old-fashioned hang-ups about editorial integrity. There may be a few NoW hacks who fit the bill.

And to think that the Silly Season hasn't even started.


Cai Larsen said...

Any word as to whetherKevin Madge goes freestyling in Cardiff with the younger Labour members?

Cneifiwr said...

Top Rank in Swansea.

Anonymous said...

Keth Davies MP??? - heaven forbid!

Cai Larsen said...

Pam Palmer too?

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

It's the same in Wrecsam, very little news on decisions, but at least scrutiny seem like they will do something but the ideas are coming from the opposition. It seems that Labour held authorities are happy to sit back and let officers take the lead... Officer led authorities rather than member led. Labour administrations taking a leaf out of Carwyn's book...don't do anything so no one can blame you when things go wrong.

Cneifiwr said...

Woops, AM of course!

Anonymous said...

Great post! LMFAO!
(Not that by using such an abbreviation/text speak should I be assumed a youthful Ipod listening Twitter user. In fact I regard myself as a middle aged matron. But hell, if Keith Davies can manage it and is up for it, maybe I can join the fun and throw whatever shapes on the dance-floor my dodgy lower back and stress incontinence will allow!)

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Behold and lo, the Journal seems to be prining a Cardigan/Emlyn/Llandysul/Lampeter edition again.

Without a word of explanation the Cardigan and Lampeter editions were ditched last year, all news being strictly Carmarthen related.

Did they face such a slump in circulation that they were forced to relaunch a combined North West Carmarthenshire/South Ceredigion edition called "TEIFI"? With a cover price of 30p this week?

EmlynUwchCych said...

Behold and lo, the Journal seems to be prining a Cardigan/Emlyn/Llandysul/Lampeter edition again.

Without a word of explanation the Cardigan and Lampeter editions were ditched last year, all news being strictly Carmarthen related.

Did they face such a slump in circulation that they were forced to relaunch a combined North West Carmarthenshire/South Ceredigion edition called "TEIFI"? With a cover price of 30p this week?

Cneifiwr said...

That would explain why I saw several young women wearing Carmarthen Journal T-shirts in Cardigan yesterday. They were obviously supposed to be promoting something, but seemed rather shy and retiring (Cneifiwr really isn't that scary).

Tessa said...

@cneifiwr - not scary? Oh I beg to differ Sir! I wouldn't wish to be on the wrong side of your pen (being mightier than the sword). Well, keyboard I suppose - lets keep up with the times (eh Madge?). Although on 2nd thoughts I assume you don't yourself wear a t-shirt with your online identity emblazoned upon it.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

On further inspection there's also a new LAMPETER edition of the Journal which sells as far as Llandysul and Saron (30p just this week). The TEIFI edition sells as far as Drefach-Felindre.

So why did they kill them off last year, only to pull a Lazarus on them now?

Cneifiwr said...

There's definitely a smell of burning rubber here. This is pure speculation, but I think that sales in this area must have taken a real hit in the last year. It always grated seeing the Journal in the local newsagents headed with the words "Town Edition" (meaning Carmarthen), and I suspect the same was felt by lots of other people.

The Tivyside has much better local coverage as well, although I don't think they are in good shape either.

What will be interesting to see is if the new "local" editions are anything more than a marketing ploy.

Anonymous said...

Journal has gone downhill since Cathryn Ings left. Also its political reporter, David Connop Price, has left too.
Very little of Carmarthenshire politics in their now. Mark James must be loving it!