Local newspapers across Wales provide an important service to their readers and communities; they are far and away the most popular source for local news and information. They’re well-read too; often better read within their areas than their larger cousins, enjoying a high level of market penetration.
Many are struggling financially, however, and depend heavily on advertising revenue. The call from several politicians from multiple parties this week for the Welsh Government not to remove the obligation on Welsh local authorities to advertise traffic orders in local weeklies is entirely understandable in that context. But, as reported, it seems as though maintaining the newspapers’ revenue is the only reason for making that call, and that makes it sound more like a back-door subsidy than a sensible advertising policy.
There’s nothing wrong with the government deciding that local papers provide such a valuable service that it justifies using public money to keep them afloat. But it would be far more honest to do that openly and transparently. Ordering local councils to buy advertising which is otherwise deemed unnecessary would merely serve to create a delusion that the papers are commercially successful when they’re not.