Thursday, 30 July 2009

Sustainable journalism

I'm all for the spirit of the Blitz in a newsroom.

I love the idea of pulling an all-nighter in the attempt to cover a major story. Everyone's excited. No-one cares about the time or that they had plans that evening. Pizzas and takeaway boxes litter the newsroom and the boss has a case of lager sitting in the fridge. We are all pulling together for the good of the paper to cover that one huge story.

Why does it feel, however, that this attitude, this sense of pride and accomplishment is needed just to bring out a normal edition each week?

Why does each week feel like a Sisyphean Challenge (you know, the rock and hill guy), relying on good will and the fear of getting sacked in a jobless market?

I know it's the same for the reporters, but they have the added disadvantage of earning shit money and facing my wrath when they don't produce the mountain of copy needed to fill our pages.

A lot of talk is made about sustainability.

It's the new buzz word in this eco-conscious era.

Sustainable fishing, farming, rivers and forestry; sustainable buildings, communities, and cities; renewable energy and green technologies.

It's the new black.

So why can't we create sustainable newspapers?

Like deforestation across the globe, the greatest crime in our journalistic world is the systematic culling of reporters from our staff.

We still hear of job losses every week despite the economy apparently bottoming out. These are just the major ones highlighted by the unions.

We all know at least one someone who has been made redundant or just not replaced when they decided to quit the game altogether.

Recruitment freezes and consolidation of desks have been happening for months now.

After reading about other papers in my company and others, I realise I am actually quite lucky to still have three reporters on some of my editions. Albeit mostly trainees.

I hear horror stories from across the country - of one reporter writing everything in a paid for; one editor in charge of three titles with a staff of half; other papers resorting to taking in bought in nationwide features about summer style and holidays with just one or two actual news pages.

One of my editions just started making some bucks after a revamp. It has one reporter who now has to take on three times the workload.

He is a lovely old boy, a true pro, but he is feeling the strain.

When I asked for a trainee (total cost to company about £1,000 a month) so that we could capitalise on this new found stream of dosh, and to take the strain from Al, I was told no way, no cash.

Bullshit. I talk to the reps, and classified, recruitment and property. I make it my business to know what is going on and I know that this paper is now making profit.

So how can this formula be sustainable?

I fear my guy is a few weeks away from melt down, so I have a choice. Nick someone from another title to the detriment of that paper (already at famine-lean staffing levels); drop pages on a weekly basis from the newly profitable paper (alienating our new very keen readers); or take it up the arse until something breaks and management wankers are forced to take action.

Two hundred and fifty quid a week.

Half the price of a half page advertisement - of which there are dozens a week in the title - and this problem disappears.

Fuck me, for the morale boosting properties alone, getting in a new reporter would do wonders across our whole newsroom.

It probably isn't even the same amount of money it costs to pay for the four offices we are still renting at High Street rates after the management recently took the decision to centralise operations into a news hub.

I don't think it is even the amount of cash spent on management's company Mercs or Beemers.

At one function this year they forked out £800 for a table. Managers only. Networking you see. Piss up more like.

Sustainability means to endure, to carry on despite hardships. But all the other examples of sustainability mentioned above require some kind of investment. Some energy with which to endure.

Reporters are the energy of newspapers. They are the driving force behind the product, others sell.

Without a decent, sustainable level of reporters, extinction is inevitable.


  1. Fantastic post. That deadline-all-the-time feeling kills journos, and it kills papers too.

  2. The one that's blowing my mind is that the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday are currently sharing a political editor following a redundancy, not as a transition, but permanent. This is meant to be Scotland's leading national daily semi-broadsheet and one of only two national Sundays, dammit. Lovely bloke, but which is his day off?