Only five passes were issued for Greenwich Council’s election count in Woolwich

Election counts in Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley were among the least-covered by London’s media, research by 853 has discovered, with the area’s traditional local press not covering the counts at all.

Bexley and Bromley issued just three passes to the media for the counts on the night of 12 December 2019 – the lowest number in London – with neither the News Shopper nor the Bexley/Bromley Times sending reporters.

Greenwich issued five passes. They went to the Press Association, Sky News, Ferrari Press Agency and the community station Maritime Radio, with neither the South London Press nor the News Shopper – the legacy titles covering the borough – attending the count. 853 attended the count but its reporter had a candidate’s guest pass and was not included in the press allocation.

Six of London’s 32 boroughs – Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Ealing, Enfield and Havering – had no representation at all from their traditional local media outlets, according to answers supplied under freedom of information laws by local councils.

The lack of coverage in Bexley is more striking as the count at Crook Log Leisure Centre, Bexleyheath, also saw the election of a new MP – Abena Oppong-Asare for Erith & Thamesmead. Her election was ignored altogether by the South London Press, which covers news in that constituency. It did not attend the count but later ran a front-page story stating “South London has two more black women MPs”. This only referred to Bell Ribeiro-Addy in Streatham and Florence Eshalomi in Vauxhall, who were both at a count it did attend, in Lambeth.

Coverage was poorest in south-east and outer east London. Across the river, just four passes were issued in Newham, but the long-established Newham Recorder was among the accredited outlets. Havering issued five passes, Redbridge six and Barking & Dagenham nine.

Where’s Abena? Erith & Thamesmead’s new MP was ignored by the South London Press, despite it now covering news in that area

Where did reporters go?

Almost every London council had a representative of Sky, ITV and the Press Association at its count. Representation varied wildly after that. Unsurprisingly, interest was highest in areas with high-profile candidates, where broadcast crews needed high numbers of passes. Hillingdon, which covers Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and John McDonnell’s Hayes and Harlington constituency, issued 96 passes. Islington, home borough of both Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, issued 94.

Waltham Forest Council issued 54, as journalists speculated over whether Iain Duncan Smith would lose his seat in Chingford; while Camden, which covers Sir Keir Starmer’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency, also issued 54 – including four to Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night programme. Richmond-upon-Thames Council issued 50 passes for Zac Goldsmith’s defeat in Richmond Park, while 45 media representatives saw Luciana Berger fail to win in Finchley & Golders Green, a count overseen by Barnet Council.

But some areas unlikely to change hands also saw far more media interest than the safe Labour and Tory seats in south-east London. Hammersmith & Fulham Council issued 23 passes to see Labour’s Andy Slaughter get re-elected in Hammersmith and the Conservative Greg Hands returned in Chelsea & Fulham, with passes going to broadcasters from Italy and Canada.

Specialist ethnic media swelled the press representation in Barnet, Tower Hamlets and other boroughs, as did journalism training courses; one group, News Associates, which publishes the SW Londoner website, had representatives at 11 counts.

Lewisham Council issued 11 passes while Southwark gave out eight.

The community station Maritime Radio interviewed Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe at December’s count

Collapse of traditional local press

The research highlights the collapse of the traditional local media in large areqs of London, particularly when it comes to basic issues like covering local democracy – a function now increasingly done by smaller outfits like 853.

In Greenwich, neither the South London Press nor the News Shopper showed up at the Waterfront Leisure Centre. In Bexley, the News Shopper and Bexley Times were absent. In Bromley, there were no passes issued to the News Shopper, Bromley Times and Bromley Borough News.

Bexley3Press Association, Ferrari Press Agency (for ITV), Sky News
Bromley3Press Association, ITV, Sky News
Greenwich5Press Association, Ferrari Press Agency (for ITV), Maritime Radio, Sky News
Lewisham11Broadcast Journalism Training Council, East London Lines, Goldsmiths University, ITV, News Shopper, Press Association, Sky News, South London Press
Southwark8Press Association, Sky News, BBC London, South London Press, Southwark News, SE1 website/, ITN and ITV News (national)

Elsewhere in London, neither the Ealing Gazette nor the Ealing Times went to their council’s count. Nor did the Hounslow Chronicle, although Hounslow Council did offer a pass to a Facebook page, Feltham Community.

The Enfield Independent – published by the News Shopper’s publisher, Newsquest – did not appear at its local count, leaving the job to a newcomer, the Enfield Dispatch, which, like 853, is a member of the Independent Community News Network.

Of the two legacy titles in Greenwich, the News Shopper only attended the Lewisham count, while the South London Press had passes for Lewisham and Lambeth. The Shopper reporter in Lewisham was its local democracy reporter, whose post is funded by the BBC as part of a scheme to improve coverage of local councils. 853 is among a number of outlets that receive these stories as part of the Local Democracy Reporter Service – however, no stories appeared on the service from the count, which the Shopper blamed on issues with mobile phone reception at the venue in Downham.

Last year the SLP – which traditionally covered Lewisham, Southwark, Lambeth and Wandsworth, closed the Mercury, which covered Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, absorbing it into the main paper, while launching a new paper for west London, the London Weekly News. That closed in December, and the SLP now labours under the full title South London Press, London Weekly News & Mercury, covering stories from as far away as Hammersmith, Wimbledon and Coulsdon.

  • 853 has defined “traditional local media” as publications and websites from the major UK local newspaper groups that publish in Greater London – Reach, Newsquest, Archant and Tindle – as well as the Camden New Journal group, South London Press, Southwark News and Yellow Advertiser, which covers outer east London and Essex. The figures are supplied by the local councils themselves and may not include others who attended without official accreditation, as 853 did in Greenwich. The City of London was not asked for details as Westminster counts its results. See a full spreadsheet of responses.

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