19 April 2014

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Fresh blow for regional lobby as correspondent axed

Regional press representation at Westminster has declined to an all-time low as newspaper group cutbacks continue to bite.

The Liverpool Echo has become the latest regional daily to axe its lobby correspondent with Ian Hernon set to leave at the beginning of next month.

The decision has sparked a protest from local MPs with Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman tabling an early day motion which has so far been signed by 28 colleagues.

It praises Ian for his “straightforward reportage and political analysis” and says his departure after 33 years in the lobby “could result in a diminution of Parliamentary reporting.”

However Ian’s exit is only part of a wider crisis facing the regional lobby with several leading titles deeming the service expendable.

Ian’s departure will leave the three biggest-selling titles in England – the Echo, the Manchester Evening News, and the Wolverhampton-based Express and Star, all without a dedicated Westminster reporter.

Express and Star publisher the Midland News Association, which until recently had two correspondents in the lobby, axed its London editor Sunita Patel earlier this year.

The MEN has had no-one at Westminster since dispensing with long-serving political editor Ian Craig in 2009. Ian tragically died a few months later, with Tony Blair leading the tributes.

Only four English titles now retain their own single-paper lobby correspondents – The Journal, Newcastle, the Eastern Daily Press, the Western Morning News and the Yorkshire Post.

Jon Walker, who covers for the Birmingham Post and Mail, is understood to have survived the latest round of job cuts at Trinity Mirror Midlands, but has added the Coventry Evening Telegraph to his portfolio.

Other major daily titles without any Westminster representation include the Yorkshire Evening Post, South Wales Echo and The News, Portsmouth.

However north of the border, The Scotsman, The Herald and the Press and Journal, Aberdeen, all retain their own dedicated political editors, with Calum Ross recently replacing veteran P&J correspondent David Perry who has retired.

Northcliffe Media also retains a three-person team at Westminster covering all its daily titles, while PA’s Lobby Extra service, run by Rob Merrick, continues to service a large number of titles.

Responding to Ms Ellman’s EDM, Liverpool Echo editor Alastair Machray said:  “Trading conditions in the media industry remain very difficult and like all businesses we have to keep costs under constant review and must continually evolve if we are to remain competitive, efficient and profitable.

“The decision not to keep the role of Liverpool Echo political correspondent at Westminster was made against this background with great reluctance.

“We are putting in train arrangements to ensure that we still have regular  contact with our region’s MPs so we can continue to give our readers an excellent service and keep them fully informed about the many important issues with which their elected parliamentary representatives are involved.”

6 Comments

  1. Observer

    Sadly, the age of a regional paper having its own lobby correspondent is badly out of date. When most newsdesks are struggling to find a reporter to cover stories actually on their patch, having a a reporter based in Westminster just has to be viewed as an expensive luxury.
    And if we are honest…how many really important local exclusives actually come from the lobby?

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  2. Greeno

    Sorry Observer but you’re quite simply wrong, and you should also be careful what you say. If you had any conscience at all you’d be thinking of good hard working journalists whose efforts you’re knocking in a cavalier and irresponsible way.
    A good lobby correspondent is priceless, producing exclusives, forging close links with local mps, who are also in touch with their constituents so providing many human interest stories.

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  3. Blustringer

    Wonder if they mentioned this during Lord Hunt’s visit?

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  4. Biff

    A friend of mine is a London-based financial reporter for a Northern paper.

    Let’s just say he is updating his CV daily.

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  5. sonofgreycardigan

    Sorry Greeno, you’re wrong old chap and it’s Observer who’s right with a dose of realism versus the rose-tinted view.

    Journalism has always been a case of dog-eat-dog and there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I.
    The equally hard-working journos who struggle to cover their patches many miles from the capital would rather see a lobby correspondent bite the dust than bite it themselves. Fact.

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  6. Son of Troutcatcher

    @sonofgreycardigan (or is that actually Grey himself??) – this is a bit of a statement of the bleeding obvious really. If they are being honest, wouldn’t most people (not just journalists) rather see someone else’s job axed than their own?

    Anyway the fact that some other reporters would be glad to see the back of them does not of course invalidate the role of a lobby correspondent in any way. Editors are sometimes prone to thinking that gaining the confidence and trust of MPs and officials is a relatively easy ‘beat’ and that if they axe the lobby role, those contacts will invariably fall into the lap of head office reporters. It hardly ever works out that way.

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