I have blogged before about the American-born media analyst Claire Enders and her prediction that the next four years will see the loss of 650 of the UK’s 1,300 local and regional newspapers.
My instinctive reaction to her pronouncements is that it must be very nice to be paid large amounts of money for spreading doom and gloom about other people’s job prospects, but I’ll try to let that rather uncharitable thought pass.
In her defence, Enders has been uncannily accurate in some of her previous predictions, such as forecasting the dotcom crash at the turn of the millennium, and that’s probably why the business media seems to have accepted her analysis at face value.
But for all her undoubted intellect, she seems to deal more in sweeping generalisations and soundbites than in hard facts, her latest interview in yesterday’s Guardian, in which she likened newspapers to fax machines and CD players, being no exception.
The facts are that 50 local newspapers have so far closed this year, almost all of them freesheets. If that rate continues for the next four years, we will see perhaps 200-300 close, although Enders clearly expects that rate of closure to accelerate.
As Dominic Ponsford points out on Press Gazette’s blog, The Wire, it would be interesting to know whether she believes the closures will continue to come mainly from the free newspaper sector, or whether she thinks the 400 or so paid-for dailies and weeklies are under the same level of threat.
At times, Ms Enders’ statements can gives the impression – intentionally or otherwise – that there is nothing the industry can do to avert the coming apocalypse, but even if that is the case, there is surely lots it can do to mitigate it.
What, for instance, does she think of the potential for saving titles through asset-swapping or further industry consolidation – or for that matter, through alternative ownership models as advocated by the NUJ and others?
In summary, I think it’s time Ms Enders spelled out in much greater detail where she thinks the axe will fall, and by implication, which half of the industry she thinks still has a viable future in the digital world.
Failing that, she should consider taking the advice which Clement Attlee famously proffered to Harold Laski: "A period of silence on your part would be most welcome."