The biggest news in the world right now, locally and nationally, is Covid and associated restrictions. It’s also a useful way to see about the limited powers local governments actually have. And the newsworthiness of it. And how news resources affect news agendas.
Yesterday, for example, was a big day for school announcements. We were told by the government that the schools should stay open but the unions and SAGE (and Independent SAGE) were calling for closures to avoid overwhelming the NHS and killing thousands more people.
Schools are funded through local government from a national-government determined school grant. Academy schools are not under local authority control but there are still some schools that are.
As we were waiting for news yesterday about what was going to happen with schools there was little information provided by local government. A local media organisation, Bristol247, began an update on decisions that schools were taking about closing or staying open; The main newspaper Bristol Post was reporting on closures or otherwise as well. There was nothing I could find on another ‘local’ paper, the Bristol Cable, about school closures.
Schools, and pot holes, and bin collections are the very essence of local government. In 2014, further responsibilities and less money were given to councils under the Care Act.
There’s a space here for trying to understand about how much of news about schools, and what type of news, is considered newsworthy and by which publications. How much of it as part of ‘use case’ process rather than a division through spheres of what is news?
You wouldn’t expect to see an update on the BBC of which schools are closing with the same level of detail as you would on Bristol247 or the Post (primarily the Post) but the BBC does provide a link to regional media sources (link).
One of my stories is about SEND and it got very little traction at all. Such low numbers. I’ve noted with other SEND stories, it takes a big effort to get coverage in the news. One of the issues for this, rather than any issue of deviant spheres not getting coverage, is that the system feels too complicated for many journalists. The issues in the story are multifaceted. The streams of income and responsibility are hard to decipher.
And similar may have been happening yesterday. The news sources may not have been sure what the council’s responsibilities were vis a vis schools. When I asked as to whether they would have expected a communication from the council, the response was that it was surprising they had not heard anything. They would have expected something.
Then there was a conversation about what it was that councils could do and how many schools were academies compared to local authority run– the answer wasn’t certain.
It turns out that 2 secondary schools and about half the primaries are locally run.
Basu (2016) does talk about this in relation to how journalistic practices such as cutting the number of reporters, eliminating specialist roles — we used to have an education editor at the Post but I’m not sure that role exists anymore — and centralising much content has reduced the complexity of stories covered.
Although I note that finding out which schools are closing or not is not a complex issue. Knowing the responsibilities of the council in relation to school closures, however, may just be. Not understanding a story may keep it off the news agenda as much as not wanting to run it for other reasons.