Group will teach activists to pitch stories to local papers in drive to reach older voters
Momentum is aiming to circumvent national news outlets by training Labor activists to place news stories in local newspapers, citing concerns that party activists could have ignored a crucial part of the media industry in the last general election.
The Labor-supporting campaign group has unveiled the training program, which will teach campaigners the basics of pitching relevant news stories to the regional press and ensuring local journalists are kept informed and supplied with material about events, campaigns, and protests.
The program will be piloted in a number of marginal seats – including Middlesbrough and Stevenage – before being rolled out to around 40 constituencies across the country in the autumn. These will include constituencies with high-profile Conservative MPs such as Iain Duncan Smith, Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd, along with a number of marginal seats in the Midlands and Scotland.
Training sessions will take place at constituency Labour party meetings or standalone events, with follow-up discussions available. A test session was held at Momentum’s annual conference in Durham last month.
Despite industry-wide financial gloom, many local newspaper websites have continued to grow their online audiences, especially at outlets targeted at major population centres.
During the 2017 general election, the Conservatives spent substantial sums buying wraparound adverts on local papers in marginal constituencies – reaching both the people who buy the paper and those who simply see them on display in local shops.
“Momentum is launching a press training programme in order to help Labour members platform local campaigns and empower ordinary people to use their local media to hold Conservative MPs to account,” said Laura Parker, the national coordinator of Momentum.
“The Tories paid for four-page adverts in local newspapers in areas they were targeting at the last election because they know the importance of local media. We need a strategy to counter this – but one that works by promoting quality journalism and real political debate, not buying up front pages.”
Local newspapers are also seen as being relatively trustworthy compared with national news outlets, while one in 10 Britons say they read their local newspaper website on a weekly basis – more than read either the Sun or Telegraph websites, according to polling by the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute.
Momentum believes the tactic will enable campaigners to reach older voters and those who are less likely to use social media. It is also possible to take advantage of the staff losses at local papers, who are keen for well-produced material that could work as news stories.
The course has been developed in conjunction with The Media Fund, a crowdfunded co-operative set up last year to support left-leaning media organisations.