Saturday 7 March 2015

The Carmarthenshire Herald

The first ever edition of the Carmarthenshire Herald is out in the shops now and is definitely worth 50p of anyone's money.

The Herald is a very different proposition to the Carmarthen Journal, Llanelli Star, South Wales Guardian and Tivyside. It devotes much more space to serious news for a start, but also contains  much less in the way of community news. There are no births, deaths and marriages, there are no reports on WI meetings, clubs or any of the other minutiae of local life which are such a staple of smaller local papers, such as the Guardian and Tivyside.

Correction: There is a obituaries page.

While staff at the existing newspapers will hardly be jumping for joy at the arrival of this new competitor, the mood in County Hall is likely to be much darker because the Herald is clearly going to be a much more critical voice than we are used to.


There is extensive coverage of the historic child abuse scandals at Rhydygors and Cartref y Gelli, but these are early days in the investigation, and the Herald's questions to the council went largely unanswered.

An interesting angle which possibly came too late for the first edition was the BBC's uncovering of a report published in 1998. Although all of the staff directly involved and senior council officers who would have known about it have all long gone, there are certainly some councillors still around who were high up in the pecking order then as now.

Summing up another case of abuse in November 2009, Meryl Gravell said, "It is sad it happened, but we can now move on". Where cover-ups are concerned, Carmarthenshire has some world-class practitioners.

This was the case involving whistleblower Delyth Jenkins, and when the BBC made a programme about it a couple of years ago, the council refused to say anything and called the police to keep an eye on the BBC crew while the programme was being made.

The BBC documentary was duly broadcast and it was shocking. The Carmarthen Journal, then under a different editor, made no mention of the programme but ran instead a re-hashed summary of a 6 month old care services inspection report which painted a very positive picture of the council's care services.

If there was a cover-up of the Rhydygors and Cartref y Gelli abuse scandals, it is likely that there are still some people in County Hall who could answer some of the questions.


Inside the paper is detailed coverage of the council's latest budget row, with Labour and Independent councillors blocking attempts to use the council's huge reserves to protect services and limit increases in council tax.

The Herald notes the extraordinary interventions by the chief executive in the debate which left the council leader, Kevin Madge, looking spectacularly weak and irrelevant. He may wear the crown, but the way in which the budget was rammed through showed where real power lies.

The paper notes that Cllr David Jenkins (Plaid) had spotted that while everything else is being cut, Kevin Madge's  Mark James's budget provides for a 13% increase in spending on the council's bloated press and PR operations.

The final act in this farce is detailed by Caebrwyn here.

Carmarthen West

Next up we have a very well written and researched story on the Carmarthen West development where the council is planning to use its otherwise sacrosanct reserves to build a link road, the main beneficiaries of which will be a group of landed gentry in East Anglia.

The Carmarthen West development is truly scandalous, and it raises serious questions about the way in which the council's planning department is being run. Someone high up wants this development to go through no matter what, and the planning officers have clearly been told to make sure it happens.

Once again, Kevin Madge appears to be a spectator whose only role is to rubber stamp the chief executive's decisions.

Carmarthenshire in a wider context

Elsewhere it is refreshing to see that the Herald devotes a lot of column inches to health, education, agriculture and business, putting Carmarthenshire in the context of what is happening across Wales as a whole.

There are also two and a bit pages in Welsh, including detailed coverage of the Donaldson report, a piece celebrating the life of Dr Meredydd Evans and a preview of an upcoming S4C documentary on the Super Furry Animals.

The only criticism here is that someone really ought to have proof-read some of the copy.

The Herald could also do worse than enlist the services of writers such as Lowri Haf Cooke whose recent piece on Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, is one of the most entertaining reviews I have read for a long time.

As mentioned at the start of this piece, the Carmarthenshire Herald is very thin on hyper-local news (jumble sales, thefts of lawnmowers, Garden Club meetings, etc.). It is also thin on coverage of the Teifi Valley, something which will come as a relief to the Tivyside Advertiser, although I bought my copy in Cardigan.

It is also not politically partisan, with coverage given to representatives of various parties.

Overall, this was a very good start, and the hope is that in the longer term the arrival of the Herald and its sister paper in Llanelli will produce a much more lively and questioning local press in Carmarthenshire.

There are both threats and opportunities for existing local papers, but the Heralds should help them escape from the dead hand of council control and make working for a local newspaper fun once more.


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I am glad the Herald has now appeared as a genuine alternative to the usual suspects.

Cneifiwr, your review is correct on several points, especially the quality of the writing. From the very first paragraph on the front page, I imagine someone with a medicore grasp of written English tapping away, and not having the benefit of a sub-editor to turn the reportage into writing.

I hope that someone will get a grip on how to write newspaper reports, because the stories being covered are too important to be ignored.

Like you, I was sorry not to find news of provincial Carmarthenshire: the Teifi valley, northern Dinefwr, the Amman valley (apart from Mr Madge's face a couple of times!). Llanelli will get its own edition, but what about those of us outside the immediate thrall of Carmarthen Town?

Note to the sports department: the Amman valley is in Carmarthenshire. Where do I find news about the teams in that neck of the woods?

Could do a lot better, but I sure was glad to see it!

Anonymous said...

Can I just point out that your comment about the "historic child abuse scandals" at Rhydygors should have included the word "alleged". So far, nothing has been heard in court, far less proved as fact.

But a thousand welcomes to the Herald - factual, unafraid, unbullied reporting at last.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@14.07 You are of course absolutely right.

Anonymous said...

Very bland first edition. County Hall must be very relieved. Apologists for the status quo and mouthpiece for such limp lettuces as Kevin Madge and Jeff Edmunds.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for the Herald - now anyone who cares to buy the paper can get the facts about the way CCC operates, facts that have up until now been available only to those who read this and similar blogs.
Perhaps more people will now be outraged at the way their future is mapped out, how their money is spent etc by the dysfunctional gang in Carmarthen.

Unknown said...

Very impressed. I enjoyed reading it. Well set out and great breadth of topics covered. Surely the more media/newspapers available to the general public the better. I wish the Herald and others every success.

Anonymous said...

Re. Anonymous 7th March " First edition being rather bland." I'm not a bit worried. " A new broom sweeping clean" can't always happen overnight.
I liken it to a new solicitor having to build up numbers of clients. The clients and their evidence will gradually grow and blossom. It is up to those with a grievance to come forward with
any evidence. As soon as there is just one successful outcome of a proper investigation then I believe "The flood gates will open.
It may be that County Hall would not be "Relieved" for so much longer.
Let us use this opportunity to place our trust that now we may be listened to and any complaints reported, might be properly investigated.
If the Herald is to be able to bake us a cake, then I'm sure there are plenty of us who can supply the ingredients.