The leader of Merton Council has led fellow south London local authority heads in asking a newspaper group to re-think what it calls the ‘risk of erosion of local news.’
The leaders of four cross-party councils – Merton, Kingston upon Thames, Sutton and Richmond upon Thames – have written to Tony Portelli, the managing director of Newsquest South London, the company which owns and runs the Local Guardian series and paid-for titles the Surrey Comet and the Richmond & Twickenham Times.
Led by Merton Council leader Councillor Stephen Alambritis as chairman of the South London Partnership of those councils, the letter calls for Newsquest to be open and transparent about the future of its business.
The jobs of four reporters, two content editors, three subeditors, an editorial assistant and the deputy managing editor will all be lost in the coming months, with the remaining staff of 12 reporters and four content editors producing 11 newspapers and eight associated websites.
On 11 September, Newsquest terminated its contract with Deadline Pix Ltd, meaning there are no professional photographers working across any of its south London and Surrey titles.
The letter, sent on 13 September, states: “We are writing to express our concern about the risk of erosion of local news reporting in south London.
“It is essential that Newsquest has the capacity to report professionally, to provide the high-quality journalism residents in our boroughs expect. As leaders of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, we all share a common commitment to transparency and openness. The role of the local press in providing independent reporting and challenge on our councils and other public bodies locally is vital to this.”
The leaders said that they might not always agree with the views and opinions expressed in the newspapers, but stressed the importance of local reporters and news photographers in ensuring the democratic well-being of society.
Cllr Alambritis said: “I was shocked and disappointed to see Newsquest had put almost all of its editorial staff on a redundancy notice.
“We are particularly proud of the Wimbledon Guardian and the information it provides our residents.
“It is incredibly important to have a strong local press not only to provide the area with the vital information it needs, but to hold politicians like myself to account.
“I would urge Newsquest to desist from its current course and enter into urgent negotiations with National Union of Journalist representatives to save local news.”
The titles affected include: the Croydon, Epsom, Kingston, Richmond, Sutton, Wandsworth and Wimbledon Guardians, the Richmond & Twickenham Times, the Surrey Comet and the News Shopper (Bexley, Bromley, Dartford, Gravesend, Greenwich and Lewisham editions) as well as their associated websites.