Put local newspapers on buses to help save London reporting, Assembly report urges

Coming soon to a bus near you? The lesser-spotted Mercury

London buses should carry copies of local newspapers to make sure communities have access to local news, a report from London Assembly members says.

The Assembly’s economy committee has been investigating the decline in local journalism in the capital, which in this part of London has manifested itself in the collapse of the firm which owned the Mercury and South London Press and the News Shopper now being run by a skeleton staff based in Sutton.

Recommendations include the mayor setting up a digital journalism apprenticeship and funding bursaries to address the lack of diversity in the local news business.

But its most eye-catching suggestion is that Transport for London should trial placing local newspapers on selected bus routes “to ensure that groups who are digitally and news-excluded have access to local news”.

However, there will be some practical issues with this – not least that bus operators have already eyed this up as a money-making opportunity. The publisher of Metro pays to have its papers distributed on buses operated by Go-Ahead London – taking up space in the vehicles’ luggage racks.

And most buses will run through territory served by many local titles – the 202 from Crystal Palace to Blackheath Royal Standard notches up at least nine (Croydon Advertiser, Croydon Guardian, Croydon Citizen, Southwark News, Bromley News Shopper, Bromley Times, South London Press, Greenwich & Lewisham Mercury, Greenwich & Lewisham News Shopper) but would probably end up running with a Croydon title on board as it comes from a garage there.

So any trial would have to pick very short routes. A more practical idea may be to encourage publishers to have distribution points at bus stops – although local councils would have to be on board for that.

The report adds that “hyperlocal newspapers and news blogs deserve to be recognised as credible news sources” but raises questions about how viable they are. It also suggests the mayor “establishes a fund for projects related to democratic engagement, social cohesion and local enterprise” – something that’s reasonably common in the US through outfits such as the Knight Foundation, but very rare here.

If you’re interested enough to read this website, you’ll probably be interested enough in a report that gives a good overview of an industry that’s deteriorating in London – the full thing’s here.

And as for the viability of local news sites – sharp-eyed readers will have spotted a new look and a new web address (853london.com) for this site. Watch this space for news soon on how you can support 853.