After skipping through streets cluttered with litter – cleaning up after the binmen’s not really the done thing around here – it was a joy to discover a fresh edition of Greenwich Council’s weekly propaganda newspaper, Greenwich Time, waiting for me. Amid all the latest guff about whatever the council’s doing, there was more – yes, more! A TV listings guide! A review of the new album by the Killers! And some stuff about Charlton Athletic being crap.
Hold on a second? Why is the council offering to tell me what’s on the telly? Then I remembered the BBC had recently stopped, or is about to stop, charging publishers for its listings, so that wasn’t a huge waste of cash, but… why was the council publishing a TV guide?
And why was the council paying someone, however indirectly, to tell me that the Las Vegas four-piece’s new album showed “the defining qualities that sets rock stars apart from mere humans”? Maybe if it was commissioning it from a student, giving them a bit of work experience, yes, but paying some bloke called Rod Kitson to do it? Shouldn’t they be applying a broom to the scrappy tip that’s the pavement outside my house? And the football stuff…?
Actually, the football stuff is the key to all this. Earlier this year, the Mercury – once a proud local paper based in Deptford, now a run-down freesheet compiled in Streatham – let go of Kevin Nolan, a veteran sportswriter who’d spent decades covering Charlton Athletic (and, when the Mercury was a proper paper, boxing as well). He’s a much-loved figure among Charlton fans, his writing is funny and incisive, and he has an incredible store of stories about the club. The Mercury – under then-sports editor Peter Cordwell – helped kickstart the campaign to get Charlton back to The Valley two decades ago, so there’s a bit of history there.
Peter Cordwell is now running an outfit called Community First Journals, which produces Greenwich Time for the council. He’s the paper’s editor, and so he took on Nolan to write about the Addicks for GT. And there’s the pattern. As established local papers get weaker and weaker, the council-backed paper steps in to fill the gap. In 1990, frustrated by Greenwich Council’s refusal to grant Charlton permission to return to The Valley, fans set up the Valley Party and stood for election. They managed to unseat the chairman of the planning committee, rocking the Labour-run council to its core. Nobody’s managed to do it again since them. Can you imagine Greenwich Time giving them a fair hearing now? Of course not, dissenting voices are restricted to occasional appearances on the letters pages.
As Roy Greenslade wrote on Wednesday, it’s bad for democracy. It’s not just a Labour thing – the Tories are at it in Hammersmith and Fulham. I’ve no problem with the council having a newspaper, but does it need to be weekly? Does it need to have a TV guide and album reviews? Of course not. It just seems to sit there in place of communicating properly with its council tax payers – and helping put established papers out of business.
Oh, back to that album review. Turns out that last year, reviewer and GT reporter Rod Kitson was in a band called China Dogs, praised by one reviewer as having “a modern edge akin to Arctic Monkeys/Killers” . Who did the press for China Dogs? Greenwich Time editor Peter Cordwell. Writing about your favourite bands on the council tax? Damn, I wish I’d thought of it first…