Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Newspaper owner warns OFT: 'Relax the ownership rules and the regional press will be left dominated by two major groups'

The NUJ has published a submission to the Office of Fair Trading in which free newspaper entrepreneur Chris Bullivant warns any relaxation of the media merger and acquisition rules will lead to the regional press being dominated by just two big groups.
Bullivant has been publishing free papers in the Midlands for around 30 years and launched Europe's first free daily, the Birmingham Daily News. His Observer Standard Group is currently in administration.
His submission directly opposes the claims by Britain's biggest regional publishers that a relaxation in merger rules is vital to the survival of the industry.
Bullivant tells the OFT:
"I believe the large publishers are advocating an exchange of assets between them to create greater local newspaper monopolies...Their zeal for mergers is no secret - indeed it has largely prompted this review and discussion document.
"But they have hidden their true motives behind a spurious argument that the current rules negates their ability to turn the threat of digital media to their print businesses into an opportunity. Newspaper publishers had, and indeed in many ways, still have the ability to be the number one choice for the public on the web. They have just not gone about it very well, as evidenced by the Fish4 failure.
"And backed it with the implicit threat that there will be hundreds of closures and thousands of job losses unless they are allowed to consolidate their position. The reality is that all of these large groups built themselves on a sea of debt which has become unrepayable."
Bullivant adds: "Their answer to their impatient backers is: 'Don't worry - we'll get the government to change the rules so that the four of us can carve the market up profitably again. Those that want to get out, get out clean, those who remain clean up the marketplace.'
He asks: "Is it really the job of the government in a free market to allow the creation of even greater monopolies to save these companies from their own bad business judgement?"
Bullivant concludes: "if merger and consolidation is allowed into two big groups, they will have an even greater stranglehold on the marketplace to keep budding publishers out of whatever ilk - and the ability to charge advertisers what they like and dish up whatever quality of journalism to readers they feel is adequate."
You can read Bullivant's full submission on the NUJ website.

Jon Gaunt back on air now

Shock jock Jon Gaunt is back on air here promoting The Sun's new online radio station Sun Talk which launches on April 20.
Gaunt's first guest will be Tory leader David Cameron.

FT spells out £1.5bn fall in Johnston Press value

Depressing piece in the Financial Times today Lifeblood drains from local press in which Ben Fenton puts the fall in value of Johnston Press's market capitalisation in this dramatic fashion: "In the past five years, the shares of Johnston, once the home of 30 per cent-plus profit margins, have fallen so far that it is possible to calculate its current market capitalisation simply by removing the first two digits of its peak equity value of £1,547m in 2004.
"At a mere £47m today, Johnston shareholders have seen a £1.5bn, or 97 per cent, loss in value."
The FT also quotes analyst Claire Enders saying: “There will be some papers that sell 50,000 to 100,000 papers [per issue] that will survive, and quite a lot of very small, very local papers such as Tindle Newspapers, nurturing their local communities, but there may not be very much in between. Obviously there will be exceptions.”
She is doubtful about more consolidation but described the current merger regulations applying to the regional press as "ridiculous". Enders says: “I am struggling to see that a policy of ‘bigger-is-better’ has worked to date, but it is true that the rules as they are now are ridiculous because they penalise the local press as if competition hadn’t changed fundamentally.”

GMG regional journalists take job fight to Guardian with full page ad appeal to readers

Regional newspaper journalists employed by the Guardian Media Group have today taken their fight against job cuts to readers of the company's national flagship The Guardian.
The GMG journalists, backed by the NUJ, have taken out a full page ad in the form of an open letter telling Guardian readers how 39 journalists' jobs have been cut at the Manchester Evening News, 39 at GMG's 22 weeklies in Greater Manchester and 35 at GMG's Surrey and Berkshire division.
The ad says: "The Manchester Evening News is Britain's biggest regional newspaper. It uncovers and reports the news with no agenda other than to serve the public interest. Our weekly papers do the same.
"Throughout our proud history, these papers always made a profit, providing tens of millions of pounds a year to enable our loss-making sister paper, The Guardian, to survive and flourish."
The ad criticises the Scott Trust, claiming: "In rubber-stamping these cuts, the Trust has approved the decimation of a great regional newspaper in the city which was the birthplace of The Guardian."
Readers are urged to get their MPS to back Early Day Motions supporting the local press.
GMG management has claimed that the cuts are being introduced to protect the regional newspapers' future and that the MEN no longer subsidises The Guardian as it did in the past.
The Guardian has run a leader on the job cuts today.

Custard editor gets his just desserts

John Nurden editor of the Whitstable Times appears to have been vindicated in his decision to lead page four of his paper with the tale of a mum who complained she couldn't find any custard in the town, judging by the interest it has stirred up on the web.
The story Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage at first attracted some derision as an example of poor news judgement and there were suggestions that the reporter who wrote the story and news editor who allowed it to be published should be sacked.
But Nurden defended his nose for news saying it was a fun story that had attracted the most traffic to the paper's website. By last night the custard shortage story had attracted 65 web postings from around the country.
The intro to the story: "A MUM of three is dis-custard after a hunt for the dessert sauce in the town proved fruitles." played it for laughs. And many posters have reacted in the same spirit rather than join the critics:
Neil Mac, Newcastle: "It's a decent knock-about tale. What's the harm? I'd rather read this than a council press release which has been cut, pasted and printed verbatim. More power to The Whitstable Times! Start a campaign to get our custard back I say."
General Custard, Blackberry Way: "Great article. People are talking. What else matters. Even if they are talking for the wrong reasons, they are talking. And there's no such thing as bad publicity. This article is doing more to promote Whitstable at the moment than Canterbury City Council's tourism department! "
Neil Wardrop, Beltring :"Honestly, I'm ashamed for the profession. Not by this story but the comments of other journalists on here.You'd have to be a bit of a po-faced cretin not to think this is a cracking local paper tale. Mind you most of the people knocking this probably get no further than re-writing council press releases if most local papers I read are anything to go by."
Journalist ThatWentToTheDarkSide, Maidstone: "I can't believe some people on here don't think this is a story!!! Errrr.....this is the best story I've read on a local website for weeks (except possibly mud wrestling at a credit crunched pub in Maidstone)I personally enjoy being covered in custard at the weekends so clearly I couldn't live in Whitstable...."

Monday, 30 March 2009

'Give redundant journalists start-up cash to launch a network of community web sites'

RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor, a former policy adviser to the Prime Minister, asks on his blog: "Why not create a national scheme to give newly redundant regional journalists, and those emerging from journalism course with no chance of a job, start-up funds to create strong community web-sites?"
Taylor says: "These sites could be of real values to local people trying to cope with the recession, generating new business and community self help opportunities. With a small national body to support these fledgling sites and foster innovation and best practice we could see hundreds of powerful local networks in months.
"Assuming the site developers work from home and can use shared resources developed by the national body, a year’s set-up cost (enough time to see whether the site can succeed), including basic pay for the person running the site, would cost about £30k per site.
"For those who have access to premises there could also be a two way apprenticeship element where the former journalists take on school leavers, who, while they are learning writing and reporting skills may be able to teach their mentors a thing or two about social networking twittering etc.
"So, a pot of about £30 million could fund a thousand community web-sites adding real social value, employing at least a thousand workers with valuable skills and offering some great opportunities for graduates and school leavers. What’s more, this spending can be fast and direct.
"It need take only weeks between committing the resources and the sites starting to make an impact. And this contributes to various other Government objectives around community cohesion and resilience."
Story via guardian.co.uk

Why regional press groups must get bigger

Press Gazette reports today that the seven biggest regional newspaper groups will claim to the Government this week that there is "overwhelming evidence" that the current rules on local newspaper mergers are outdated.
The lobbying for reform is being led by the Local Media Alliance, the campaign group of chief executives from Trinity, Johnston, Northcliffe, Newsquest, Guardian Media Group, Archant and DC Thomson as well as the Newspaper Society. The LMA has compiled a survey of 5,000 local newspaper advertisers and will be presenting its evidence to the Office of Fair Trading.
Outgoing Johnston Press chairman Roger Parry, who is chairman of the LMA, told Press Gazette while relaxing the ownership rules "would make a very useful contribution" towards solving the problems currently facing the regional press, it was not the only answer.
Parry said: "Local newspaper themselves have to develop a more viable hybrid model – a mix of newspaper, website, magazine and so on. It's easier to do that if you have much larger groups with better access to resources."
The Press Gazette story follows an Observer article on Sunday predicting a swapping of titles and assets by the big regional publishers if merger rules are relaxed.

Call for authorities to back local press with ads

A call has been made for local authorities to demonstrate their commitment to local newspapers by guaranteeing to place more public notices and council adverts in the titles.
The call came at a meeting of more than sixty councillors, MPs and NUJ members from the Manchester Evening News and other Guardian Media Group weeklies who attended a Stand Up for Journalism meeting at Manchester Town Hall.
The MEN and other titles are facing almost eighty redundancies among journalists and the closure of weekly newspaper offices.
The meeting heard claims that some local newspapers were being penalised by councils such as Salford who had retaliated to what they regard as unfavourable coverage of council stories by withholding advertising from some titles.
Deputy leader of Manchester City Council Jim Battle told the audience he wants all ten local authorities to put their money where their mouth is to help save local newspapers and journalists threatened with redundancy.
Said NUJ Vice President, Peter Murray, who also spoke at the meeting on Friday, “There’s now widespread agreement that defending jobs in print, in broadcasting, or in new media is part of a fight to retain strong public services, under attack from executives who are more concerned about their balance sheets, shareholders or government targets than they are about our role as journalists to scrutinise and question those who hold public office.”
Staff on the GMG titles in Manchester are being balloted over taking industrial action in response to the job cuts.

Whitstable woman runs out of custard shock

Commentators have been rushing to defend the role of the regional press as the watchdog of local democracy and freedom. But sometimes the local press can get involved in more mundane matters like...custard shortages.
HoldtheFrontPage reports today that the editor of the Whitstable Times has defended his decision to run a story about a mum-of-three who complained about the local shops being out of custard.
The weekly devoted most of page four to a tale about keen cook Jules Serkin who ran out of custard powder while making an apple and blackcurrant crumble.
It led to a barrage of comments on the paper's website citing the story as evidence of declining standards of local journalism and calling for the reporter who wrote it to be sacked.
But editor John Nurden hit back saying the custard story had attaracted the most comments on the paper's website. The story began after Ms Serkin's trawl of local convenience stores to find a replacement tin of custard powder proved fruitless. She contacted the paper to complain and it ran the story under the headline: " Whitstable mum in custard shortage".
One reader calling himself Nik from Newcastle commented: "How on earth did this terrible story make it to the morning news conference, let alone to print? As a fellow hack, I am shocked, appalled and rather ashamed at this dire example of journalism."
Simon from London, added: "The journalist who wrote this and the news editor who allowed it should be sacked. You're taking the mick out of your readers."
Nurden defended the paper saying: "If it was our splash I would agree but I think it made a nice page four funny - and has attracted more comments than any other on our web site proving that custard shortages should be top of everyone's news menu."
You can read the full shocking story here: Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage.

"I'll pay..how much do you want?"

Interesting letter from a reader in MediaGuardian today saying they are willing to pay for online content.
Andrew Shore from Nottingham was responding to an article by Polly Toynbee in which she described online readers of The Guardian as "skinflints" and urged them to "go out and buy a copy".
He writes: "But I, for one, am very comfortable to have my news delivered direct to my computer, with all the joys and convenience that online journalism affords. And without the hassle and additional resources necessary to read it in print. I rely on the Guardian to provide me with up-to-the-minute news and enlighten me with the latest sociological issues, lavished with an incisive commentary and a unique sense of wit.
"I have every sympathy for the plight of the news industry and would be very happy to make regular donations in return for my daily news. This leaves me with one question: given the current levels of online readership, what daily contribution would the Guardian feel comfortable in accepting, per user, in order to ensure its continued survival?"

Get ready for a massive regional press shake up as Trinity, Northcliffe, Newsquest and Johnston prepare to play swap shop

The big regional newspaper publishers along with the Newspaper Society have been lobbying since before Christmas for a relaxation of the rules surrounding mergers and acquisitions applied to the local press.
The Observer reported yesterday that local newspaper publishers will submit a report to the Office of Fair Trading tomorrow "calling for a massive shake-up of competition laws that could herald a wave of mergers and acquisitions once financial markets stabilise."
The Observer article, headlined 'Let us merge or we'll die, say local papers', added: "If takeover rules are relaxed, analysts say, two or three regional press "supergroups" may emerge, and will be better placed to face the challenges posed by the internet and other media that are taking advertising from local papers.
"Investment bankers have drawn up plans for leading players such as Johnston Press, Trinity Mirror, Newsquest, and Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), the "big four" regional newspaper groups, to swap assets or merge operations."
The Observer says that a scenario put forward by bankers "puts together local titles currently owned by Northcliffe,newspaper and magazine publisher Archant and Guardian Media Group. It also quotes Paul Richards at Numis Securities saying: "Bigger newspaper groups would still need to pay down debt, but thinner, leaner titles mean that staff could work across different publications, you wouldn't need separate central overheads."
What worries journalists is that more consolidation would lead to more centralised production and more job losses at a time when 900 editorial posts have been made redundant in the regional press since last July.
Some argue that alternative business models are needed for the local press. The NUJ is hosting a press commission of experts today to look at alternative ways of funding and supporting local media in the digital age.
The commission includes Roy Greenslade, John Lloyd, Barbara Gunnell, the Community Media Association, Keith Sutton, Nick Davies. Their views will feed in to the union's own submission to government on local media.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear on his blog argues that more consolidation and deregulation are not the answer. He says: "More of the same failed policies does not address the problem. Levies on the parasitic companies who aggregate news but don't produce any original content themselves (hello, Google - are you listening?) could secure widespread support amongst media workers and companies.
"A debate will rage about whether councils produce 'newspapers' because of the failure of local newspapers to cover their patch or the failure of local newspapers to be able to cover their patch is down to local council papers.
"Better use of government advertising to support local media is supported by most - the real question is how do you ensure that the revenues are used to bolster local journalism not just carry on rewarding shareholders.
"But any look at local media shouldn't just look at how to protect existing companies but how to help journalists, local communities and businesses develop alternatives that may be specialist, small-scale, may be trusts, co-operatively run or simply locally-owned companies.
"Whilst not much is clear in the debate at this stage, it is clear there is a strong support for quality journalism across the political spectrum and in local communities. And no-one must forget that quality journalism can only be delivered if you have enough journalists and editorial resources."

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Stand up for journalism benefit

A ‘Stand up for journalism’ comedy benefit for striking journalists is being held by the NUJ Left in London on Wednesday 15 April.
Among the line-up confirmed so far are Attila the Stockbroker; feminist, journalist and comedian Kate Smurthwaite; and NUJ member Julia Brosnan, a former journalist turned comedian.
The benefit will be at Bar B Lo, 76 Marchmont Street, London. Doors open 7.30pm. Nearest tube Russell Square.
Tickets will be available soon at £5 waged/£3 unwaged, or pay on the door. There will also be NUJ speakers and DJ Miles 'Ahead' Barter playing ska, new wave and punk beats.
For tickets email richsimcox@mac.com

BBC journalists a 'harried and miserable bunch'

Nick Cohen gives the BBC a battering in his Observer column today.
He argues: "The corporation should be becoming the most important news institution not merely in Britain but the world. The technological changes that are wrecking the profitability of newspapers and commercial TV in all advanced countries mean that many will think hard before sending a reporter to cover the next coup in Thailand. The BBC, whose £3bn income is guaranteed by the state, should have no comparable worries.
"Yet far from looking like confident men and women ready to fill the gaps left by their retreating competitors, BBC journalists are a harried and miserable bunch."
Cohen argues that editorial jobs are being cut on flagship current affairs programmes like Today and Newsnight while the BBC is pouring millions into developing online sites and iPlayer. He claims: "The BBC is so uninterested in content that it is sacking its content providers or journalists as we used to call them. The paradox of the BBC's strategy is that the more it spends on expanding into cyberspace the less it has to say."
Cohen concludes: "In this time of upheaval, the BBC has a public duty to invest and broadcast the journalism that others cannot afford. It is failing spectacularly to live up to its responsibilities."

When Brian Clough wrote for nowt

Every sports journalists seems to have a Brian Clough story which is being recycled on the back of the rave reviews of 'The Damned United' film and the portrayal of the mercurial manager by Michael Sheen.
Clough was manager of Nottingham Forest when Barrie Williams was editor of the Nottingham Evening Post. I interviewed Barrie in September 2005 for Press Gazette just after he had left the editorship of the Western Morning News. These were some of his memories of Clough from his Nottingham days.
"Clough rang up one day and said, ‘I want to come and work for you. I want to do a column.' I said: ‘but we pay peanuts.' He said: ‘OK, I'll do it for a case of champagne each month.'
"The finance director wanted to know what sort of champagne Brian wanted. When I asked him he said: ‘fuck it, I'll do it for nowt.'
"The column was so good that freelance stringers used to park outside the office at 7am to be the first to sell it to the nationals. Brian didn't like to be ripped off, so once he wrote a complete load of old crap, complete rubbish — and it still got sold."
Williams asked Clough to present the Disabled Sports Personality of the Year Awards: "We were in the foyer of City Hall when a woman walked in with a child in a wheelchair who was so disfigured everybody instinctively looked away.
Cloughie picked this child gently out of the wheelchair and kissed him. He carried him away across the room and sat him on his knee. I have never forgotten that."

Friday, 27 March 2009

Quotes of the Week

Dr. Stuart Wilks-Heeg, executive director, Democratic Audit, in letter to MediaGuardian: “As cuts begin to bite hard, there will be a loss of journalistic expertise, closure of local titles, and mounting pressure placed on journalists who manage to retain their jobs. The quality and quantity of reporting on local public services will decline, as will the scope to hold councils and other bodies to account.”

Johann Hari in The Independent: "As the thud of falling newspapers echoes across the Atlantic, we can't afford to dawdle. Good newspapers – for all their flaws and selective vision – are the sinews of representative government. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." Unless we act now, fast, we may be left with the opposite: a government, but no newspapers left to monitor them. "

Ian Jack in The Guardian: "Other than the people who work for them, who could really care if the Daily Star and the Sunday People vanished tomorrow? The Hexham Courant, the Buteman, the Whitehaven News: in terms of their social and democratic importance, not to mention the beauty of their mastheads, these papers are worth a thousand of them."

Thursday, 26 March 2009

NUJ condemns Tory local media policy

The NUJ today condemned the new Conservative Party policy on local media claiming it would do nothing to solve the problems facing quality journalism.
The Conservative Party is supporting the relaxation of media ownership regulations - a move which regional publishers have been campaigning for.
But NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “This looks like a policy that has been rushed out in response to calls by media owners who are simply looking to make even more cuts to our already limping local press.
“These plans fail to deal with the problems facing local journalists. Consolidation of media ownership has meant office and title closures; it has meant journalists taken out of their communities, fundamentally undermining their ability to do their jobs well. The Conservative response to these problems seems to be more of the same, which will do nothing to help quality journalism.
“Where are the big ideas? We need our politicians to come up with proposals for how local journalism can be saved - not surrendered to big business interests who have taken multi-million pound profits whilst cutting back on quality journalism.
“The Conservatives might see media regulation as burdensome red tape - but it is what ensures people have access to varied media and different voices. To throw that protection away in response to business demands without any plans to secure improvement in journalism is foolhardy and an insult to our local communities.”

It's 30k for a reporter in the public sector

Look at the pay being offered by the new fortnightly newspaper-style publication being launched by the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham.
An ad in MediaGuardian on Monday shows the council is offering the deputy editor of the new publication, called The News, from £33,081 up to £35,000; a sub/designer from £30,591 to £33,081; and reporters from £29,223 up to £31,353.
The salaries are more than competitive with the local press, even before the current crisis in the regional newspaper industry.
The News is the kind of newspaper-style council paper that is causing serious concern among newspaper publishers. The council has said it will withdraw all but statutory advertising from the local press and will compete for commercial business.
When I did a story about it for Press Gazette, Chris Carter, the editor of the Barking and Dagenham Recorder, described The News as a “stab in the back”.

Action plan proposals for regional press

The Society of Editors and the Newspaper Society have responded to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham’s request for a list of urgent action points to help the local media industry.
The action plan includes:
The Government issuing guidance to stop local government publications and websites from competing directly with and undermining local papers.
Local and national government, which recognise the effectiveness of local media editorially, being encouraged to advertise jobs and services in local papers and their websites.
Removing the threat to relax obligations to advertise public notices in local newspapers.
Seeking urgent and effective ways to stop Google and others from profiting from third party content without recompense to or consent from news gatherers and others who generated the material.
Investing public funds for training directly with media companies and the industry’s main training organisation, the NCTJ, would help local papers to maintain news gathering and encourage training for multi-platform news delivery.
Ministers are already discussing liberalisation of controls over regional and local newspaper mergers, transfers and cross-media ownership, which both organisations have urged.

Monday, 23 March 2009

More gloom as columnists warn over future of local press as democracy watchdog

With more regional press gloom today as Northcliffe predicts total job losses of 1,000 in the division as ad revenues continue to fall, it was good to see two national columnists stressing the importance of the local press to local democracy.
Johann Hari in The Independent and Ian Jack in The Guardian both looked at the crisis facing regional newspapers and the negative impact it would have on keeping local authorities under scrutiny.

Lobby of MPs over 2,000 media job cuts

The NUJ is urging all journalists to lobby their MPs at the House of Commons on Wednesday about the future of local media and job losses in newspapers, broadcasting, and online.
The union claims around 2,000 jobs have been axed across all sectors of the media, including 900 in the regional press since July last year.
A standard letter sent out to NUJ members to pass on to their MPs states: "As one of your constituents, and a journalist, I am concerned about the future of local media. I am particularly worried that the government may be persuaded by big business lobbying to introduce changes that could actually exacerbate the problems faced by local journalists.
"You may be aware that across the whole UK local papers and broadcasters have been closing offices and axing staff. The cutbacks across the media are damaging quality journalism and the vital role it plays in our communities.
"Many media companies are now lobbying for changes to media ownership rules or for state support, but I am concerned that such action, without guarantees to secure investment in quality journalism, could actually make matters worse. I believe government action in this area should look to support local journalism, not simply the big businesses that own most local media outlets."
There is a briefing for MPs about regional journalism in the UK at 2pm in Committee Room 20 of the House of Commons. Individual journalists are encouraged to speak to their own MP after the briefing.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Guardian and Observer NUJ chapels 'deplore' Guardian Media regional job cuts

Journalists on the Guardian and Observer in London have shown solidarity with regional journalists in their group who are facing widescale job cuts and editorial office closures.
A joint meeting of NUJ members from the two national titles unanimously agreed a resolution that said: “When the chapels in greater Manchester, Surrey and Berkshire decide on a course of action, we will support them.”
The motion also deplored the lack of consultation by Guardian Media regional management and called for redundancy payments to be equal to those offered on the national papers.
Guardian Media has announced plans to cut 39 out of 90 jobs on the Manchester Evening News and close all their weekly paper offices in the north west of England.
In the south east two paid-for weekly papers are to close and the Reading Evening Post is to reduce from five days a week to two.
The full motion passed by the joint meeting of the Guardian and Observer chapels read: “The redundancies proposed at the Manchester Evening News and the weeklies in greater Manchester amount to a collective redundancy of more than 100 (150 in fact), and together with the mooted redundancies at the Surrey and Berkshire newspapers, the total of proposed GMG redundancies is 245.
"The Guardian and Observer chapels deplore the management’s attempt to avoid its legal responsibilities. There must be 90 days’ consultation. This time could be used to considers ways of ameliorating the situation and trying to ensure the survival of the papers and preserving quality. We would support the MEN and other regional chapels if it became necessary to take the company to an employment tribunal because of the lack of proper consultation.
“We call on management to offer the journalists in Greater Manchester and on the Surrey and Berkshire newspapers the same enhanced redundancy terms as are available to Guardian and Observer journalists until June 30, namely four weeks’ pay for every year’s service up to £95,000, plus three months’ pay in lieu of notice. This might well attract more volunteers for redundancy.
The Guardian and Observer chapels oppose compulsory redundancies. When the chapels in Greater Manchester, Surrey and Berkshire decide on a course of action, we will support them.”
On Wednesday 25 March the NUJ is organising a lobby of Parliament as part of a union-wide campaign against media cuts.

Quotes of the Week: regional crisis special

I thought I should devote my Quotes of the Week column to the regional press and the job cuts which have seen more than 900 editorial posts made redundant in local newspapers since July. The quotes are from interviews I did for an article for Media Guardian "Where the hell do we go now?", including some that were cut, plus quotes from other websites.

Reporter on a daily regional: "I love the news industry. Journalism is all I ever wanted to do. But today I applied for a PR job because I don’t believe the news business today has a career for me. Can I aspire to being an editor one day? Not any more. My dream job doesn’t exist anymore."The papers are all closed or merged or subbed off site. So what are the choices? Hope you don’t get made redundant before a job comes up at a company that has got it right. Take your ideas and set up by yourself. Or leave a job you love because you can’t bear to see it devalued any more."

Stephen Glover on regional job cuts imposed by the Guardian Media Group: "The Guardian, for all its appearance of virtue and high-mindedness, is as ruthless and mean-minded as a Dodge City card sharp. What particularly gets my goat is the lack of generosity evinced by Media Guardian. Last week Campbell-Greenslade in his blog suggested that the closure of free local newspapers was "no loss to democracy". If Rupert Murdoch suggested that the closure of The Guardian was "no loss to democracy" there would be a run on smelling salts at the paper's HQ."

Ex-Regional newspaper editor on the current crop of regional editors: “They’re forced to sit in meetings telling lowly-paid senior reporters with families and mortgages that they’re going to be made redundant when they know that handsome profits are still being made, but they have to do it in the hope of hanging onto their own jobs. The hypocrisy and guilt is eating them up."

Nik Hewitt, ex-Northcliffe Digital multi-media specialist in an interview with journalism.co.uk: "It wouldn't surprise me if within the next three years at least 50 per cent of local titles are just printed in one large area, with an insert put into them that tries to make them as local as possible."

NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear on regional journalists: “The feedback is that there is an enormous amount of anger at what people see as the squandering of many years of profit and the esteem their newspapers were held in. There is anger that their papers are being rundown at a time when their web sites are not being developed. They are demoralised about journalism as well as their jobs as journalists.” I got this quote for my Guardian piece on the regional press but it was squeezed out.

Hitman posting on Peter Kirwan's Press Gazette blog Media Money : "History will record that it was just unlucky that this financial hiatus came at a time when the regional press was in the hands of deadhead accountants and jumped up sales reps who had always feared and loathed journalists and all their foul works. "It was the excuse they had been dreaming of. They've always wanted to do this; sack most of us, grind down the few survivors, and fill our papers with any old PR shite that happens to get emailed in. It's their turn, they are in charge, the time to exact their mean and savage vengeance is now - and Christ, are they going to make us PAY."

A newspaper management view: "It is proving very difficult to recoup advertising revenues lost from print titles on the web. Online display advertising, which many thought could one day provide sufficient revenues to support journalism, is seriously challenged as the vast over-supply of online advertising inventory has forced down yields dramatically. This inventory has become commoditised -it is very difficult to get premium rates even on media owners' high-quality websites. In other words, making serious money online is a nut the industry is yet to crack."

A journalism teacher's view: Ian Reeves, University of Kent: "No sane person involved in journalism education can feel anything but uneasy about preparing students for an industry where so many senior jobs are disappearing and so few entry level positions are becoming available. The paradox of course is that while there's never been a worse time to find a job, there's never been a better time to learn about the dazzling array of new techniques that are now at the journalist's disposal. With so many new tools emerging for research, dissemination and storytelling, this really should be a Golden Age for online reporting."

Tony Boullemier, co-founder of the Northants Post Group: "The level of corporate greed is appalling. Newspaper groups are simply competing in a macabre race to see how few journos they can get away with to bring out their titles as internet advertising closes its grip on customers. The job losses are heartbreaking and the terrible long term consequence of local papers going under will be the lack of accountability for corrupt officialdom and criminals. Perhaps a new generation of journalistic entrepreneurs will step forward with a new 'local' media idea to break the mould and grab readers and advertisers. Oh for a crystal ball."

Trevor Kavanagh, Ally Ross and Agony Aunt Deidre will join Jon Gaunt on Sun Talk

Sun journalists, including political commentator Trevor Kavanagh, TV critic Ally Ross, Agony Aunt Deidre, motoring editor Ken Gibson plus Ian McGarry on sport are joining Jon Gaunt on the Sun's new online radio station Sun Talk, which launches on April 20.
As revealed yesterday, Gaunt will be doing a live daily show from 10 am to 1pm from Monday to Friday and his first guest will be Tory leader David Cameron.
It will be a return to live radio for Gaunt followng his sacking from talkSPORT for calling a councillor "a Nazi".
In his Sun column today, Gaunt says: "I've had loads of offers since my untimely exit from that other station but I have held out for this one as the thought of translating Britain's greatest newspaper into great radio is a challenge I just couldn't resist."

Government confirms regional media summit

The Government is calling a summit on the future of the regional media following meetings on Wednesday with the NUJ, Newspaper Society and Society of Editors.
Junior culture minister Barbara Follett made the announcement during a debate in the House of Commons yesterday.
The NUJ said the idea had been put forward to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham by NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear and members of the union’s parliamentary group at a meeting on Wednesday.
Other sources say the summit was Burnham's idea and was discussed with representatives of the Newspaper Society prior to the meeting to the NUJ.
Regional publishers are said to want the summit to win support for the relaxing of the merger regime and to stop local councils launching newspaper-style publications that take public sector ads away from local papers.
Dear said: “The meeting with Andy Burnham was very constructive and I am delighted that our suggestion has been picked up so quickly. Journalists on regional papers, TV, radio and websites are losing their jobs every day. Papers are closing, local offices are being boarded up.
“The government summit must involve journalists, media owners, and community and co-operative groups. It must actively consider all options for the future of local media.”

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Frontline event on future of regional press

An event looking at the future of the regional press is being planned for 8 April at London's Frontline Club, which champions independent journalism.
A panel of speakers is yet to be confirmed. For more details contact julie.tomlin@frontlineclub.com

Regional press crisis: NUJ calls for summit

The NUJ urged the government to convene an urgent summit on the future of regional media in a meeting between Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and the union’s general secretary Jeremy Dear at the House of Commons yesterday.
According to the NUJ, Burnham pledged his support for moves to save local journalism. Dear said: “The meeting with Andy Burnham was very constructive. He clearly values the role his local papers - the Leigh Journal and the Leigh Reporter - play in holding the community together.”
A number of MPs from the NUJ’s parliamentary group also attended the meeting. Dear added: “We told the minister that any government assistance for the media should have conditions guaranteeing jobs and investment in local journalism. Without that it will become a handout for shareholders.
“We also asked him to look at ways of funding new start ups, co-operatives and community media initiatives. Mr Burnham has been a supporter of the Football Supporters Trust and this could be looked at as a model for local media.
“He seemed interested in our idea of convening a conference of journalists, media owners and community and co-operative groups to actively consider the future of local media.
“I hope this can be done as soon as possible as cutbacks are being announced daily.”
The House of Commons was due to debate the jobs crisis in the regional media this morning - after the issue was raised by Greater Manchester MPs opposed to cut backs by Guardian Media in the county.
Burnham has been busy. Yesterday he also met representatives of the Newspaper Society and the Sociecty of Editors.

Jon Gaunt back on air with Sun Talk

Back in January I wrote that Sun columnist Jon Gaunt, who was sacked from his role as a talkSPORT shock-jock for calling a councillor "a Nazi", was understood to be in discussions with a major media player about a new multi-media venture.
What I didn't know was that the major player was The Sun. MediaWeek reveals that the Sun is launching Sun Talk, an online radio station on 20 April , which will be hosted by Jon Gaunt, every morning for three hours between 10am and 1pm. The station's first guest will be Conservative leader David Cameron MP.
Media Week says the station will form a key plank of News International's bid to expand the audio and video content across all its titles. The group is currently ploughing £1m into new multi-media studios which will enable the group's journalists to use state-of-the-art video and audio facilities. Journalists will be able to produce content for its websites in-house and participate in live broadcasts.

NS keeps up campaign on ownership rules

The Newspaper Society and Society of Editors met Culture Secretary Andy Burnham yesterday and argued for a relaxation of media ownership rules.
They also called to a halt to publicly-funded competition for local media audiences and advertising revenues. Regional publishers are worried about the growth of local council owned newspaper-style publications which are used as a vehilcle for local authority advertising rather than the local press.
The newspaper industry will give evidence tomorrow at an OFT hearing as part of its review of the local media merger regime.
Last night Johnston Press former chief executive Tim Bowdler told a gathering in a London club to mark his retirement that he felt "wretched" about leaving the company in the middle of a downturn after "14 years of plenty".

Regional press crisis: More than 70 MPs sign motion supporting local journalism

More than 70 MPs have backed an Early Day Motion calling for the Government to intervene to support local journalism.
The motion carries a sting aimed at the big regional publishers when it says: "Government action in this area must focus on supporting local journalism not simply propping up companies that have already extracted millions of pounds from their businesses whilst cutting investment in editorial resources"
The full EDM states: "That this House regrets the trend of cutbacks and lack of investment in local journalism by the owners of local news providers; notes that since the summer of 2008 over 1,000 editorial posts in local news have been cut or left unfilled and that dozens of local newspaper offices have closed despite local newspapers remaining viable and profitable businesses from which huge sums having been returned to shareholders over a number of years and where the pay of directors has rocketed; further notes that local journalists are over-worked, often being forced to cover wider areas owing to staffing cutbacks; further notes that coverage of court trials, council meetings and local elections is in massive decline; re-affirms a commitment to high quality local journalism as an integral part of engaging people in their community, strengthening local identities and democracy; believes that Government action in this area must focus on supporting local journalism not simply propping up companies that have already extracted millions of pounds from their businesses whilst cutting investment in editorial resources; and therefore calls on the Government to explore innovative solutions to preserve local journalism and to ensure that state support, either in the form of deregulatory measures or financial help, is given only where firm guarantees on investment in local journalism are secured."
Early Day Motion 916 supporting local journalism - text and signatories

Shameless book plug

A second edition of Tony Harcup's book 'Journalism Principles and Practice' is now available from Sage Publishing.
The guide to the theory and practice of journalism is updated with 25 per cent of new material. The new edition looks at the ‘converged’ nature of journalism, with a new chapter on telling stories through pictures, whether on TV or online; insights from online journalists on blogging; the use of video and audio on the web; interactive maps and other ways of doing journalism online.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Regional press crisis: A message from the Leicester Mercury subs to management

Subs at Northcliffe's flagship Leicester Mercury are urging the paper's management to back the paper's "Support our County" campaign and scrap plans to transfer their jobs to Nottingham.
The Mercury campaign aims to encourage readers to shop in Leicestershire.
Chris Morley, NUJ northern organiser, said: “The Support our County campaign had the laudable aim of encouraging independent traders. But, while parading their Leicestershire credentials on the front page of the paper, Mercury bosses were in the boardroom hatching plans to forcibly move some local shoppers on their own staff - and their money – to Nottingham. You couldn’t make it up."
The Leicester Mercury NUJ chapel has written to local MPs, councillors, and other opinion formers urging them to protest about the cuts to the company.
Their letter says: “The Northcliffe newspaper group, which runs the Leicester Mercury, is cutting back on the number of journalists who produce your local paper.
“The Leicester Mercury is one of hundreds of titles the company owns across the UK, which also include the Nottingham Evening Post and Derby Evening Telegraph.
“Last year, operating profits for the Daily Mail and General Trust, parent group for Northcliffe, were £317 million. At Leicester, latest figures show the company made £20,000 profit for each employee. In pursuit of further ‘cost savings’ the company plans to move the printing and journalistic production of the Leicester Mercury to Nottingham.
“So, if Northcliffe really values this county, and being “At the heart of all things local”, why is it moving production of a proud local paper all the way to Nottingham?
“We recognise these are difficult financial times and that cost savings may have to be made - and even that some jobs may be lost. However, we have put forward proposals that would make substantial savings without ending a proud 135-year history of producing Leicestershire’s daily paper in Leicester."

Regional press crisis: An entrepreneur's view

Tony Boullemier, co-founder of the Northants Post Group, was one of the free newspaper pioneers who shook up the regional press in the 1970s and 1980s.
Here's what he thinks of the current crisis in a posting on Peter Kirwan's Media Money blog on Press Gazette: "The level of corporate greed is appalling. Newspaper groups are simply competing in a macabre race to see how few journos they can get away with to bring out their titles as internet advertising closes its grip on customers.
"The job losses are heartbreaking and the terrible long term consequence of local papers going under will be the lack of accountability for corrupt officialdom and criminals. Perhaps a new generation of journalistic entrepreneurs will step forward with a new 'local' media idea to break the mould and grab readers and advertisers. Oh for a crystal ball."

Johnston East Lancs staff vote on action

Journalists on Johnston Press’s titles in East Lancashire, covering Burnley, Nelson and Clitheroe are balloting for industrial action.
According to the NUJ, Johnston Press wants to restructure operations on the Burnley Express, Nelson Leader, and Clitheroe Advertiser - and has asked for voluntary redundancies.
Chris Morley, NUJ northern Organiser, said: “This is the second set of proposals management have put forward. The chapel are worried it could lead to compulsory redundancies and make it impossible to run the papers to an acceptable standard."
If the East Lancashire journalists vote in favour they could join colleagues at Yorkshire Post Newspapers in Leeds who have already taken thirteen days of action over compulsory redundancies and editorial quality.

Is the recession an excuse to sack hacks?

I've heard this a lot recently. Many regional journalists believe that their managements are using the recession as an excuse to cut staff to the bone so they will make more money when the upturn comes.
Hitman posting on Peter Kirwan's Press Gazette blog Media Money puts it like this: "History will record that it was just unlucky that this financial hiatus came at a time when the regional press was in the hands of deadhead accountants and jumped up sales reps who had always feared and loathed journalists and all their foul works.
"It was the excuse they had been dreaming of. They've always wanted to do this; sack most of us, grind down the few survivors, and fill our papers with any old PR shite that happens to get emailed in. It's their turn, they are in charge, the time to exact their mean and savage vengeance is now - and Christ, are they going to make us PAY."

PCC chairman urges publishers: 'Don't sacrifice editorial standards in recession'

Outgoing Press Complaints Commission chairman Sir Christopher Meyer has urged newspaper publishers not to let their standards drop during the recession.
As unprecedented job cuts are made in newspapers, Sir Christopher said that if publishers were to let high journalistic standards fall due to the "hollowing" out of jobs in the media it would be like "selling the family jewellery."
He added: "To maintain credibility with readers you have to have high quality journalism."
Sir Christopher said it was part of the PCC's remit to be vigilant on editorial standards and uphold the editors' Code of Practice.
He warned the PCC had already noticed a "wobble" in online reporting. He said publishers should apply the same standards to their web and print products, with "the buck stopping with the editor".
Sir Christopher bows out at the end of March after six years. In a briefing to journalists he said there were three achievements of the PCC he was particularly pleased with.
These were that the threat of the PCC being put under state control via Ofcom had subsided. He said the Government and Conservative Party both favoured self-regulation as the best way to regulate the press. "From wide contacts we have, it is pretty clear the centre of gravity is with self regulation," Sir Christopher said.
He also welcomed the increase in the number of people who have come to the PCC over the past six years, claiming: "We have become a Citizens' Advice Bureau on the media, we have critical mass."
Thirdly, he welcome the fact that 99 per cent of those helped by the Commission were ordinary members of the public, although there was a tendency for the PCC to be judged "through the prism of celebrity complaints."
Sir Christopher added he had no plans to follow up his controversial memoirs of Washington "DC Confidential" with "PCC Confidential."
The PCC's 2008 report, published today, shows there were 4,698 complaints about the British press last year, a rise of 8 per cent on 2007. There were 329 privacy rulings, up 35 per cent on the previous year.
The most complained about article was by Times columnist Matthew Parris headlined: "What's smug and deserved to be decapitated?" Cycling enthusiasts strongly objected to the suggestion that piano wire be strung across country lanes to decapitate cyclists, as a punishment for littering the countryside.
Although the Code of Practice was not breached, Parris apologised.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Regional Press crisis: A digital view

Nik Hewitt, a multimedia specialist who was made redundant by Northcliffe Digital in January, has given an interview to journalism.co.uk's Judith Townend which gives a digital perspective on the current crisis in the regional press. The following are some of his quotes, starting with his most dramatic prediction:

"It wouldn't surprise me if within the next three years at least 50 per cent of local titles are just printed in one large area, with an insert put into them that tries to make them as local as possible."

"I'm going to be quite cruel here, there is a place for print journalism, but that place probably isn't for very long. We don't want to buy a newspaper in the evening anymore. I don't like using the words 'print is dead', but it's not very well,"

"Within the industry there's a lot of resistance to the move to digital - there's so many things we can, as an industry, do to smooth the way [but] when you're looking at large institutions - Trinity Mirror, Johnston Press, Northcliffe - where regional centres are often in control of their output and also in charge of what they do with digital, these centres are naturally resistant to change, because they're very old institutions."

"There's a place for good information and we trust the information we get from our newspapers. We haven't lost the market yet. I think there'll always be a place for good reporters, for good editors. I'm not of the school that thinks because you own a blog, you're a reporter."

"We can improve advertising click-through by making it targeted, better, and receptive to the user. Now we can deliver through so many channels, we have to exploit them all - we have to exploit Twitter; exploit Facebook."

"I don't know what people mean by regional, or local - the only time I personally look locally is when I'm looking for services, and the only time I use it then is through Google and keywords."

'Manchester Evening News should be owned and managed in Manchester'

This is part of one of the best posts on MediaGuardian's blog on the future of regional journalism. It suggests that the best option for the Manchester Evening News would be to stand alone from Guardian Media Group and be owned and managed in Manchester.
Sensi posts: "Newspapers may be in decline, but a lot of them are still profitable. Their owners have creamed off massive profits in the good times, but their expectations must change now and they must be willing to acept lower margins if the industry is to survive.
Either that, or the paradigm of consolidation and mergers should be turned on its head and local papers and regional publishers should be allowed to go it alone outside these super-group structures, operating within a more realistic framework of expecation.
People have said on this site a number of times that the MEN has propped up the Guardian for years, and are particularly angry that GMG is not now returning the favour, if you could call it that. Maybe if the MEN can stand on its own, the best thing would be to let it do so; a Manchester paper, 100% owned and controlled here. That doesn't sound too radical, does it? It would be welcomed by so many.
Journalists and the Union have a role to play in this too and they should meet management half way. In return for a more honest, realistic approach to profitabilty from management, journalists must agree to be (even) more flexible, innovative and embrace the many different communication platforms used by their readers. They should help the paper thrive in other areas away from print and draw new readers to their activity. Too many journalists don't do this, in my view. Yes, I accept that there are time pressures (God knows I understand that), but some regional journalists are making a great job of integrating social media with old media activities. It can be done. It has to be done.
If some of this was to happen, the regional press may have a future."

Media Jobs Crisis: 'Broadcast journalists are suffering too'

A broadcast journalist sent me this email after reading my MediaGuardian piece on regional newspaper redundancies, pointing out that its not just local journalists who are suffering. He also asks are there any organisations out there that can offer any help or advice to out of work journalists

Well done for highlighting the dearth of jobs in journalism in your excellent piece in the media guardian, but its not just regional newspaper journalists that are suffering. The broadcast sector has also been badly hit -especially with ITV closing down it local news operations.
I worked in mainstream broadcasting (BBC and SKY) for 20+ years until redundancy a few years ago and have struggled to find another full time job ever since. There are simply no opportunities once you hit a certain seniority or level of experience.
Crossing over into the dark side a.k.a “getting a job in PR” is also not that easy, I have applied for many PR positions but have not been successful simply because I had no direct experience of the PR industry and the people that were hiring were not prepared to take a chance ( despite the fact that I could have done the job standing on my head) and there always seemed to be a candidate who ticked more boxes on their cv.
I have three young children to support as a single parent and it’s becoming a huge struggle and I worry whether I will ever find work as a journalist again, the rare sighting of a job opportunity is usually obscured by the hordes chasing after it !
To compound the problem once you’ve been out of work it seems a vicious circle as employers are more likely to hire someone who is currently in work with on going experience and contacts. The future does look bleak and I will vigorously dissuade my children from going anywhere near the media world as a career choice as it is so limited and uncertain. I’d sooner my son became an accountant or a banker and I never thought I’d say that !
Last week I offered an article to a local newspaper in my area and was told by the publisher they didn’t pay freelance rates anymore because they couldn’t afford it. Glibly, I asked him if he gave away advertising space for free and he said of course not. So his business model seems to be get free editorial from whatever source and to sell advertising space. As it was, I submitted my piece for free because I had already written it and I felt it was a more positive approach than just spiking it, however it did make me feel that all my years of professional expertise and experience were worthless.
Who else gives their professional services away for free ?
With so many journalists out of work is there any organization offering support and advice and help ? I could certainly do with some, or a loaded gun !"

Monday, 16 March 2009

Manchester weeklies 'no confidence' in Scott Trust over Guardian's job cuts plan

Journalists working for weekly papers in Greater Manchester owned by the Guardian Media Group have declared a vote of no confidence in the Scott Trust over GMG's decision to impose job cuts and close the offices of all the weekly titles in the region.
Members of the NUJ chapel, which represents six weekly titles in the south of Greater Manchester, unanimously passed the motion after the company announced 78 redundancies across GMG's weekly titles and sister paper the Manchester Evening News.
The chapel has now written to the Scott Trust's chair of trustees, Dame Liz Forgan, to inform her of the vote of no confidence.
The letter, written on behalf of the chapel by MoC Bethan Dorsett, said: "Our members deplore the decision to make these sweeping job cuts, particularly the compulsory editorial redundancies - a first for MEN Media - which will affect around a third of the journalists working in the weeklies.
"We also condemn the decision to remove all local newspapers from their "patches", which will not only have a devastating effect both on readership, and therefore profits, but also on the remaining staff, who face a complete overhaul of their terms and conditions without the benefit of additional pay.
"We believe this short-sighted decision will effectively obliterate the existence of popular titles, from the Rochdale Observer in the north to the Stockport Express in the south, in all but name.
"The chapel has passed this vote of no confidence in the Scott Trust as we feel these profit-driven decisions threaten the future of quality, independent journalism in the north-west.
"As CP Scott said in his centenary lecture, which laid the foundation of the Trust's values, a newspaper is 'much more than a business' as it reflects the influences and life of a whole community'."

Archant cuts redundancies after public outcry as row brews over GMG job losses

This is interesting. MediaGuardian reports today that regional newspaper publisher Archant is set to reduce the number of editorial redundancies it is seeking at its Norfolk operation by 20 after a public outcry over the planned cuts.
MediaGuardian says it understands that staff were told in meetings today that the number of editorial jobs to be cut had fallen from 54 to 34 following a public campaign to support quality journalism in the region.
Meanwhile, HoldtheFrontPage reports that a political row is brewing with MPs in the North West urging the Guardian Media Group to rethink its plans to cut jobs at MEN Media, which would see 78 journalists being made redundant and the Manchester Evening News losing 39 editorial staff out of 90.

Editorial director Simon Irwin has left Kent Messenger Group with 'immediate effect'

Staff at the Kent Messenger Group have been told that the company's long standing editorial director Simon Irwin has left the company with "immediate effect".
Irwin, a member of the Press Complaints Commission, was put on “gardening leave” just over a week ago from the independently-owned company which has just announced proposals to cut more than 150 posts, including 35 editorial staff and the closure of editorial offices at Folkestone and Thanet.
Irwin, 47, was made editorial director of the Kent Messenger Group in January 2003 and promoted to the board. He was previously associate director. He joined KMG in 1998 and was previously assistant editor of the Western Mail in Cardiff. At KMG, he was successively West Kent senior editor and editorial manager before promotion to associate director. He has worked for the Derby Evening Telegraph, Radio Hallam, The Star in Sheffield and the Coventry Evening Telegraph, beginning his journalistic career as a reporter with the Mansfield Chad.
A KMG journalist said: "We have been told in message on the internal intranet that Simon has left the company but not the reasons why."
One theory is that Irwin fell out with new KMG managing director Graham Mead over cuts in pagination.

Regional Press Crisis: The views of an editor, a reporter, a teacher and management

I have done a piece for MediaGuardian today on the regional press crisis. I spoke to journalists across the industry, someone involved in teaching journalism and was briefed by a publisher. Below are uncut quotes from a former regional newspaper editor, a reporter, an academic and a management briefing which hopefully give an insight into the current state of the industry which has now lost more than 900 editorial posts since July.
You can read the Guardian piece here.
MediaGuardian is also running a blog asking Does regional journalism have a future?
Any comments welcomed.

Regional press crisis: an ex-editor speaks out

A very experienced former regional editor told me how he believed some newspaper editors were being forced to destroy everything they had worked for.
He said: “I’m appalled at how the industry is being butchered by some international newspaper conglomerates in a vain bid to maintain unrealistic profit levels. The last time we went through a recession, we made the cost savings, but we left enough of the business to come back to when things improved. This time around I fear it’s gone too far for that.
“I know there are regional editors out there who were passionate about the importance of the regional press and the service they provided to readers.
“Now some of them are being forced to destroy everything they’ve worked for. The silly hours and the impact on their families has counted for nothing. The editions and the district offices, the court reporters and the political experts have all gone, as has the very notion of trying to deliver breaking news or digging deeper into the murky depths of the often corrupt local establishment.
“They’re forced to sit in meetings telling lowly-paid senior reporters with families and mortgages that they’re going to be made redundant when they know that handsome profits are still being made, but they have to do it in the hope of hanging onto their own jobs. The hypocrisy and guilt is eating them up.
“This grim situation affects everyone. One newspaper editor of my acquaintance tells me how he has to pause on his doorstep on the way home every night and compose his features into a smile. If he goes into the house looking glum, his wife immediately panics that he’s lost his job and the daytime stress then carries on into the night.
“And when they finally do lose their jobs in their late 40s through no fault of their own, they’ve got nowhere to turn. There’s simply nothing out there. Six weeks ago they were an editor, a man of significant substance in their community; today they’re signing on.”

Regional Press Crisis: A reporter's view

I contacted a young reporter on a daily regional who is clued in about the web and social media and loves working in news. She is now so disillusioned she has applied for a PR job.
She told me: "Personally, I have no faith that management can get us out of this. It feels as though they’re flailing around trying to protect their bottom line without any thought to where that will leave the business.
"We can take our seven per cent pay cut and watch them make more of the wrong people redundant but we all know it won’t be enough.
"If our editor had come to us and said ‘we’re restructuring the business, these are the products we want to produce, this is how many people we need to produce them, this is our strategy for growing the audience, this is the standard we expect, this is what our newspaper stands for’ we could accept that the cuts had a purpose.
"But we seem to have no strategy. None of the groups are honest with the staff about why cuts are necessary, or who they’ll benefit. We all know we’re expendable if it’ll keep the share price up. They centralise subbing, proving they have no idea about how to create a good newspaper. They can’t agree about social media. They have no idea who their audience should be or how to reach them. They ghettoise web teams. Advertising staff are chasing their tails trying to persuade companies who got their web ads for free last year that this year they’re worth paying for – while at the same time having to heavily discount paper ads because of the recession. "There’s no joined-up thinking about how to make the web pay. Are these problems fixable? Yes, but only by people who have vision and enthusiasm. We don’t have that. We have (mostly) scared middle-aged men who are out of their depth and trying to maintain the status quo.
"I love the news industry. Journalism is all I ever wanted to do. But today I applied for a PR job because I don’t believe the news business today has a career for me. Can I aspire to being an editor one day? Not any more. My dream job doesn’t exist anymore.
"The papers are all closed or merged or subbed off site. So what are the choices? Hope you don’t get made redundant before a job comes up at a company that has got it right. Take your ideas and set up by yourself. Or leave a job you love because you can’t bear to see it devalued any more."

Regional Press Crisis: A management view

I was briefed on a background basis of the management view of the crisis in the regional newspaper industry. The message is a bleak one for regional journalists. Basically web advertising does not generate enough revenue to sustain the editorial staffing levels in the local press and that's why drastic cuts are being imposed.
I was told: "It is proving very difficult to recoup advertising revenues lost from print titles on the web. Online display advertising, which many thought could one day provide sufficient revenues to support journalism, is seriouslychallenged as the vast over-supply of online advertising inventory has forced down yields dramatically.
"This inventory has become commoditised -it is very difficult to get premium rates even on media owners' high-quality websites. In other words, making serious money online is a nut the industry is yet to crack.
"On models - the current business model for local/regional press is simply not delivering the financial backing to support its journalism. Which means a new model has to be found - one with much lower costs, because revenues are falling across the board (for long-term, structural reasons, not just because of the recession).
"Because the biggest cost is people's salaries this means - regrettably - that it is impossible for publishers to make the changes needed without substantially reducing the number of people they employ.
"So the future is publishers that are smaller in terms of costs and, unfortunately, in the number of journalists. This is not a matter of propping up unsustainably high profit margins, it's a matter of commercial viability - and survival."

Regional Press Crisis: A teacher's view

While the regional newspaper industry is struggling journalism courses are booming. My former editor at Press Gazette Ian Reeves, who is now head of learning and teaching at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, said: "No sane person involved in journalism education can feel anything but uneasy about preparing students for an industry where so many senior jobs are disappearing and so few entry level positions are becoming available
"The paradox of course is that while there's never been a worse time to find a job, there's never been a better time to learn about the dazzling array of new techniques that are now at the journalist's disposal. With so many new tools emerging for research, dissemination and storytelling, this really should be a Golden Age for online reporting.
"It'll be two years until the first graduates emerge from the new Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, so with any luck some kind of stability will have re-emerged. Maybe by then some genius will have found a new business model that will allow them to put the innovative skills they're learning to the best possible use - breaking big stories, informing the wider public, and holding power to account."

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Regional publishers harming quality of their newspapers by doing online news 'too well'

Sometimes you just can't win. Everyone has been urging regional newspapers to invest in online services so they can survive in the digital future.
But when I was working at Press Gazette yesterday I noticed a report by media analyst Enders saying local publishers are accelerating their decline by ‘doing too much too well’ in terms of digital news provision at the expense of the quality of their newspapers.
Enders was commenting on Johnston Press financial results.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Pagination row theory behind Simon Irwin's 'gardening leave' at KMG

Both Kent Messenger Group and editorial director Simon Irwin aren't talking about why he is on paid leave from the company.
However, KMG sources believe there was a disagreement about pagination being dropped to a maximum of 60, including sport, at newspapers within the group.
There is speculation the decision was taken by new managing director Graham Mead without the knowledge of Irwin, who is a member of the Press Complaints Commission.
Maybe PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer, a former diplomat, could be drafted in to mediate.

Greenslade and Lloyd join NUJ commission

MediaGuardian commentator Roy Greenslade and former FT journalist and Reuters Institute journalism director John Lloyd are among a panel of media experts lined up by the NUJ for a one day commission looking at the future of local media.
Background to the commission is the continuing crisis in the regional newspaper industry which has seen hundreds of jobs axed in the last fortnight.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said the panel of experts, meeting on March 30, will look at alternative business models that could sustain local media. These could include endowments for journalists, start-up grants, partnerships with public service broadcasters, trusts and state aid.

Quotes of the Week

Noel Gallagher in The Sunday Times on Jade Goody media coverage: "I’ve got f*** all against Jade Goody, that’s nothing to do with me. But it bends my head. That, to me, sums up, in one tiny five-minute thing on the news, what an embarrassing place Britain is right now. You might as well shut No 10 Downing Street down and get Max Clifford to run the country.”

Piers Morgan on the prospect of editing The Sunday Times: "The idea of firing [Jeremy] Clarkson and AA Gill could be irresistible."

Thursday, 12 March 2009

MEN chapel condemns job cuts and calls for meeting with Liz Forgan and Scott Trust

The MEN NUJ chapel in Manchester has unanimously passed a motion condemning the Guardian Media Group's job cuts announced this week at MEN Media and its Surrey and Berkshire regional newspaper division.
The chapel has asked for Dame Liz Forgan and other trustees of the Scott Trust to meet them in Manchester.
The motion said: "The Chapel utterly condemns this week's announcements of sweeping job cuts at the MEN, our Greater Manchester weekly newspapers and the group's publications in Surrey and Berkshire and believes they will have a devastating effect on local democracy and regional journalism."
The Chapel said it also "rejects absolutely any compulsory journalistic redundancies,which are especially unpalatable at a time when the organisation is still making a profit. The total number of proposed redundancies is unjustifiable and unsustainable."
The motion added: "Since it is clear that these executive decisions have been demanded by the GMG board and sanctioned by the Scott Trust, we request that Dame Liz Forgan and her fellow trustees come to Manchester as soon as possible to speak to us."

Press Gazette deputy leaves for Frontline Club

Press Gazette deputy editor Julie Tomlin is leaving to work for the Frontline Club, which champions independent journalism, where she will help organise events.
Julie joined Press Gazette from the Camden New Journal and has been the magazine's broadcasting correspondent and features editor before being made deputy.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The cuts keep coming: today its 95 at Guardian titles in Surrey and Berkshire

The Guardian Media Group is making significant cuts at its Surrey and Berkshire regional newspapers, with 95 jobs, four offices and two newspapers set to go, Press Gazette reports today.
That's on top of the 150 announced at the Guardian's MEN Media in Manchester yesterday.
Press Gazette says as part of the proposed changes, being announced to staff today, the five-days-a-week Reading Evening Post will be cut back to just two days a week.
GMG said it will not make an announcement until all staff at the division, which includes the Surrey Advertiser and Farnborough News and Mail, are told.

Johnston Press Demo: Picture Special

Yorkshire Post City editor Ros Snowdon (left); protestors outside Johnston Press analysts' meeting in Moorgate (centre); NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear joins protest (top right).

All pics: Jon Slattery. Story in posting below.

Yorkshire Post journalists take job cuts fight to heart of the city with London protest

Journalists from Yorkshire Post Newspapers took their protest against job cuts in Leeds to the City of London today with a protest outside the Moorgate office where Johnston Press chief John Fry was briefing analysts on the company's latest results.
After a week of terrible news for the regional press with massive job cuts at the Kent Messenger Group and MEN Media in Manchester, the protesters called on JP management to invest in their newspapers and online services.
Among the protesters was Yorkshire Post City editor Ros Snowdon. Her message to the City was: "Last year YPN made £25 million. We believe these 18 job cuts will undermine the quality of our newspapers. We need continuing investment in the papers to develop in other areas. JP websites have been criticised as woeful and being done on a botched basis. They are throwing the baby out with the bath water. To stay profitable we must invest in newspapers and online."
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, also at the protest, added: "The results show Johnston Press is still a profitable company. Sacking the very people that help achieve those profits is a false economy. The message we are sending to investors and shareholders is that if the company wants to remain profitable it has to invest in quality journalism in its newspapers and online."
Yorkshire Post reporter Chris Benfield said: "I'm here because we work for papers that are still making money. People have not stopped buying them. Our financial problems are caused by mismanagement. We need people to pick up the pieces of the regional press and invest in it."
Pic by Jon Slattery: Shows protesters outside Moorgate office of Buchanan Communications this morning.

A tale of two cities: From new media in London to old media in Manchester in 30 minutes

I had a somewhat surreal day working for Press Gazette yesterday which took me from the brave new media world to the reality of what is facing regional newspapers, all within the same company.
It started with a breakfast press conference at The Guardian's sparkling new Kings Place office at which Guardian News & Media said it would be the first British newspaper publisher to open up its database to outside partners who will be able to use articles and statistics for free and build their own web applications. All surrounded by the sound of people live blogging the conference on their laptops.
Half an hour later I was back in Press Gazette's office following up a tip that the Guardian's MEN Media in Manchester was to make "significant" job cuts. While we had been blueskying in London about The Guardian being "everywhere" on the web, the storm clouds were gathering over Manchester.
It took a bit of winkling out because the company did not want to go public until after a series of staff briefings had finished at the end of the afternoon.
The figures as they emerged were dreadful. A total of 78 journalists jobs out of 150 redundancies are to go. What staggered me was 39 posts cut out of 90 on the Manchester Evening News, one of the great regional papers that has regularly and deservedly won top awards for its journalism. And more pain is likely to come at the Guardian's Surrey and Berkshire regional division today.
A web launch in London, devastating job cuts in print in Manchester.
A tale of two cities. A tale of two different media eras.
Johnston Press financial results here today show pre-tax profits down 28.1 per cent and UK advertising down 16.8 per cent.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Another day, another jobs disaster:150 jobs axed at MEN Media in Manchester

I've been working at Press Gazette today and covered the 150 redundancies, 78 of them journalists' jobs, by MEN Media in Manchester and the closure of all its weekly newspaper editorial offices.
Nearly half of the Manchester Evening News journalists, 39 out of 90, are to be made redundant and the paper is going to stop giving away so many free copies.
Guardian Media Group's regional division is expected to report profits down 85 per cent for 2008 to 2009 and to go into loss this year.
The business model for regional newspapers is not so much broken as smashed to pieces.
You can read the news story and NUJ reaction here and the management statement here.

Simon Irwin on 'gardening leave' at KMG

Kent Messenger Group’s editorial director Simon Irwin is understood to be on “gardening leave” from the independently-owned company which has just announced swingeing job cuts.
It was revealed last week that KMG was proposing to cut more than 150 posts and that up to 35 editorial staff could be made redundant after a period of consultation. It is also proposed that editorial offices at Folkestone and Thanet are to be closed.
Irwin, 47, was made editorial director of the Kent Messenger Group in January 2003 and promoted to the board. He was previously associate director. Irwin is currently a member of the Press Complaints Commission and has a high profile in the regional press.
One KMG source said: “It is widely known within the company that Simon has gone on paid leave since Friday but we don’t know what the reasons are.”
Another added: “Graham Mead (KMG’s managing director) is now dealing with Simon's work. Don't know much other than there was a disagreement on Friday and Simon is now on leave.”
Irwin joined KMG in 1998 and was previously assistant editor of the Western Mail in Cardiff.
At KMG, he was successively West Kent senior editor and editorial manager before promotion to associate director.
He has worked for the Derby Evening Telegraph, Radio Hallam Sheffield, The Star in Sheffield and the Coventry Evening Telegraph, beginning his journalistic career as a reporter with the Mansfield Chad.
The company announced last September that it was making 60 redundancies and closing six regional offices because of "unsustainable annual trading losses".
Mead, who joined KMG in January, said of the latest redundancies that the company had no option but to move to the next stage of its restructure plan. “If we had any other option but redundancies we would take it, but the reality is that we have to restructure our business to be able to operate efficiently in this challenging environment and to position ourselves for the future."

Monday, 9 March 2009

Redundant? 10 tips for jobless journalists

Jobless journalists need all the good advice they can get. Here are 10 tips from blogger and "recovering journalist" Mark Potts " for suddenly unemployed journalists."
He is particularly good on how to get to grips with new media and suggests unemployed journalists should start a blog.
Potts, a US-based media entrepreneur and consultant, says: "It's really easy and gets you into the new media milieu. If nothing else, it's a good way to keep your writing chops sharp. You can blog about just about anything, but here's a thought: Why not be really entrepreneurial and start a blog about your old beat, or about some niche topic that you think is undercovered."
Story spotted on journalism.co.uk

New advice to editors on reporting suicides

New advice to editors on how to report suicides in the aftermath of the series of deaths of young people in Bridgend has been published today.
It is contained in the new edition of the editors' codebook, the official handbook to the editors’ code of practice, which underpins the work of the Press Complaints Commission.
Other major revisions of the handbook cover data protection, privacy and intrusion into grief.
On suicide, the codebook suggests there are areas where editors might voluntarily mitigate the effects of legitimate publicity surrounding the reporting of suicides.
These include reporting helpline numbers when covering suicide stories; considering whether it is necessary to republish images of others who have taken their own lives when covering a new suicide; and not using photographs supplied by friends or from social networking sites, without the close family's consent.
The editors' codebook is written by former Western Daily Press editor Ian Beales, who is secretary to the editors' code of practice committee.
Copies are available from the PCC and in PDF format on the committee's website.
I have done a longer story for Press Gazette here.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Echoes from fall of the Rocky Mountain News

Peter Preston in The Observer today quotes Dave Krieger, sports columnist, on what it felt like when his paper, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, closed down.
"The suits come in and cry their crocodile tears then whizz home to continue collecting seven-figure salaries, pleased to have rid their shareholders of the albatross that was a helluva paper. Scripps is in the best financial shape of any newspaper company in America, save for the Washington Post, but it turns tail because it's as committed to public service journalism as teenagers are to this spring's fashions... Gannett taught everyone how to make profit margins that were out of sight. But now that it's a struggle, is there anybody left with the heart of a journalist? We need publishers with vision and conviction and courage - and it's beginning to look like all we have are profiteers born on third base."
I think Krieger's quote reflects just how many journalists over here feel about their newspaper publishers.
His quote was taken from the Columbia Journalism Review which got Rocky Mountain News staff to give their thoughts on the death of their newspaper.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Bloggers or blockheads?

Great quote from journalist Nick Cohen in the latest issue of The Word magazine about being asked to blog for free.
"I get these calls all the time nowadays from these people who are starting up new internet projects and they want me to do a blog for them. And I ask then how much they are going to pay me and the answer is always the same. Absolutely nothing.
"So I send them back a polite email with a link to the classic quote from Dr. Johnson: 'No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.' "

Guardian: Video shows police monitoring journalists at climate camp

The Guardian is running on its website today a video shot by police, accompanied by their own critical commentary, showing how officers monitored campaigners and journalists – and demanded personal information – at last August's climate camp demonstration at Kingsnorth, Kent.
The camp was held to protest against the building of the country's first new coal-fired power station in 30 years.
The Guardian claims: "Whenever journalists were in the area, the lens was almost exclusively pointed at them. In total 10 journalists were monitored emerging from the camp, where they had been interviewing protesters.
"The officers zoomed in to pick out the logo on the back of a Sky News cameraman's jacket, monitored several photographers and followed an ITV Meridian news crew, including the anchor of the evening show, Ian Axton.
"A lot of press officers aren't there. Just think they can bloody wander in and out of the field. It's wrong, I think," the lead officer remarked when the ITV crew was in shot. "I trust them less than the protesters."
"After spotting a videographer and photographer across the road, the assistant officer said: "Inquisitive, ain't they – these two, by the pole."
The lead added: "He don't like having his photograph taken – that one there with the bald head." The Guardian notes that the NUJ has documented eight occasions over the last year when, it says, police surveillance officers photographed and filmed journalists.
"In May the NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear, alerted the Home Office that journalists – particularly photographers – were "routinely and deliberately" watched by police surveillance teams.
"Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, replied that the government "greatly values" the free press, but "decisions may be made [by police] locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances". Senior police officers in turn also assured the NUJ that journalists were "not being targeted unfairly".
The Guardian also claims: "Moments after the camera stopped rolling at the Climate Camp, a group of journalists, including some of those caught on the surveillance footage, were followed by a team of surveillance officers to a McDonald's restaurant several miles from the camp.
"Police filmed the journalists, who were using wireless computer networks to file their material, through the restaurant window.
"Kent police later apologised after complaints about the McDonald's surveillance incident and the use of the Section 60 order to subject journalists in the area to intensive searches."

Friday, 6 March 2009

Archant to axe 50 editorial jobs

The suffering continues in the regional press with Archant Norfolk today announcing it is cutting more than a quarter of its editorial staff as part of a move to a single news team across its morning and evening titles.
HoldtheFrontPage reports the company, which publishes the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News and associated websites, is seeking 54 redundancies out of the 179 staff in its editorial department.
It also announced it plans to implement a new editorial system in the coming months which will enable journalists to create and publish copy for both print and web use.
Archant Norfolk says the new system will enable it to move towards a single news team supplying content for all its print and web brands - a model that has already been adopted at its sister company in Suffolk.
Managing director Stephan Phillips said in a company statement: "The newspaper sector is not immune to the general downturn in the economy and we have to make tough decisions about staffing levels like many other businesses.
"We have reduced staff numbers in our other departments such as marketing and advertising sales recently and editorial has not been subject to any major review in the last two years. "

NUJ claims Shropshire jobs' victory as Yorkshire Post action continues

The NUJ claims five compulsory redundancies expected at Shropshire Newspapers have been stopped 24 hours after management were given notice of industrial action.
NUJ members were particularly angry that trainees had been targeted for job cuts. The union claims that up until last week the company said five redundancies were still needed at the Midland News Association-owned newspaper group.
Earlier this week the NUJ gave notice of a mandatory union meeting for journalists to be held on Wednesday 11 March and the union says the company responded by saying they were no longer seeking the compulsory redundancies and would find savings elsewhere.
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern regional organiser, said: “This is a fantastic result especially as the chapel is not recognised."
Journalists were picketing the Yorkshire Post building in Leeds today after management refused to allow them to hold a 7am union meeting on the premises. Today's action is the tenth day of picketing at the Johnston Press company’s headquarters on Wellington Street in Leeds.
The next strike action is scheduled for tomorrow and Wednesday 11 March.