Wednesday, 15 July 2009

A sad indictment

I looked at a job advertisement recently.
It was looking for a boss for two paid for titles and I was interested. My background is frees and nationals, so I have never really had much scope to see if what I preach - news sells - actually can work in this day and age.
So I did a little research. The titles both weeklies were selling fairly well in this climate with 17k and 13k subs. Circulation was down 7.1 and 3.1 per cent year on year, so tragic but not yet terminal - if it can be stopped.
My juices flowing, I looked at the accompanying website to see what alleged 'nationals-follow-us-up' kind of stories they were running.
After five minutes I realised their idea of stories was very, very different to mine.
My idea of a local paper is one that even a stranger to the town would find something interesting in it to read ie it would contain good stories.
Their website was mainly 'community' toss. No real court work, no investigative stuff, in fact barely a news story at all. Most of it smelled like it had started out as a bad press release from an overpaid PR wanker.
My spider sense really started tingling when I looked at the staffing levels.
Four reporters, a sports guy, a deputy editor and, overseeing the empire, a group editor.
For two paid fors.
Allegedly, the company's jewel-in-the-crown, market-leading paid fors, to boot.
How can that be allowed to happen? Surely at the most basic level, each of these paid fors should have four reporters alone just to give them a sporting chance.
Four reporters, not allowing for sickness and holidays, writing for TWO paid fors, covering two areas.
So two each. Presumably producing just enough 'stories' to fill the largish news page sizes you would expect from a paid for title.
The ad said the job was 'very hard work'. It should have read 'impossibly hard' and should have advertised for a captain to pilot a sinking ship rather than an editor expected to boost sales.
If this is the way this company, which apparently starts with a J and ends with ohnstone, treats two of its top titles, then it is no wonder our industry is in such a perilous state.
People will buy newspapers if there is something in them that they want to read. FACT.
By investing in editorial, with real wages and realistic staffing levels, you can create a product people WILL buy. FACT
The thirst for knowledge has not diminished. But unfortunately neither has the greed of the newspaper whores that rule our worlds. FACT.


  1. And where does the money come from to pay for these extra reporters? Good news stories will indeed get folk to buy the paper, you're right there, but money's not made in rising circultion, it's made in advertising sales. FACT.

  2. Many newspapers are still making considerable profits largely due to the massive cuts across editorial floors.
    Don't be fooled by management half truths about falling revenue.
    This just means the profits are not so large this year but they are still there.
    It would not take a huge annual investment to increase the number of reporters, for example, from three to five on one of my papers(especially with the shite wages they pay).
    More reporters = better coverage = more readers = more advertisers = more money.
    It's not rocket science, chum.

  3. Ever heard of quality over quantity, chum? If you've got decent reporters they'll get you the stories you need, it's not about bums on seats. Either way, you're flogging a dead horse. Regional newspapers are dying a death. FACT.

  4. There is a circular motion to these comments. Please ask yourself why they are dying a death, madam.
    I am merely offering suggestions that may stem that demise.
    Clearly you will be happy blogging on your Blackberry about fashion as you queue up at the dole office.
    I am not so keen to just sit and do nothing about mismanagement which I think is the main cause of the decline in newspaper sales/readership.

  5. The formula is simple.

    Find something interesting that nobody else knows, and that somebody somewhere WANTS nobody else to know, write it clear and crisp, and print it. Or publish it on your website.

    That's it.

    You can't do that if you're parked on your arse all day transcribing press releases to fill "the blank bits between the ads", as a former daily editor of mine once charmingly described his papers' news pages.

    No wonder we're fucked, really. The ad sales raptors have taken over.

    Even editors now talk every day about news stories in terms of 'potential revenue streams' ie flogging ads off the back of them.

    I am a dinosaur I guess, but I have this fond memory of the days when we hacks bust our guts to fill our papers with stories people actually found interesting, and the vampiric sons and daughters of Satan who sold ads went out and sold fucking ads. And never the twain.

    As for 'where's the money to come from to hire more reporters..."

    Uh.... hello? The regional press is AWASH with money, even now, in recession-hit 2009.

    The problem lies in working off figures like 34% profit on turnover, and making it sound like something out of The Day The Earth Caught Fire if that figure "plummets" to a mere 28%.

    Oh, just the £134 million profit this year then, as opposed to last year's £168 million. Total disaster. Well, it is to the poor bastards who get handed the bin bag.

    Tesco Wallmart, not exactly a paragon of altruism, gets by on 6%.

    The people who run our newspapers are soulless, short-termist, asset-stripping whores. Maybe they always were, although I doubt that.

    The real tragedy is that their "philosophy" is now being parroted out by a succession of Editors who are not worthy of the name.

    If I hear my editor ask me one more time, when I put up a page lead, whether there is "a revenue stream we can tap into with this" I think I will trepann him.

    And go work in a fucking supermarket. At least that's honest.

  6. As a journalist with standards I'm more concerned with facts that assumptions. I don't have a Blackberry.

  7. Spot the typo. That should give you something else to whine about.

  8. Robyn, I notice from your profile that you are in PR. So you USED to be a journalist.
    Now you are just a sell-out.

  9. The fifth Yorkshireman17 July 2009 at 09:24

    Ee bah gum. Two reporters a paper? Luxury. We do it with one reporter per paper and sub it from a shoe box in t'middle of road...

    (we really do it with one reporter per paid for...)

  10. You have your own shoe box?
    And reporters actually allocated to newspaper titles, rather than a 'commercial market'?
    I knew you had it easier ooop North.