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Review of 2009: All change at the top

Every year sees a certain amount of turnover in the regional press, but as far as comings and goings are concerned, the year 2009 surely had more than its fair share.

It was a year that saw some of the longest-standing and most senior daily and weekly editors leave the industry – some due to sheer longevity, some as a result of company restructuring, and some because they simply wanted a change.

If there was one regional daily editor whose personal odyssey summed up a year of moreorless constant turmoil in the industry, it was probably Kevin Booth.

Made redundant from his role as editor of the The Press in York last November, he initially returned as deputy head of the newly-created Northcliffe subbing hub at Stoke before finally sailing back into port as editor of the Burton Mail in September.

Another who enjoyed something of a rollercoaster ride on the editorial merry-go-round was Mike Gilson, who dramatically quit as editor of The Scotsman in February, to be replaced by John McLellan who became editor-in-chief of all three Edinburgh daily and Sunday titles.

By the autumn, though, Mike was back in business as editor of the Belfast Telegraph, replacing Martin Lindsay who had announced his retirement in July.

Among the most senior editorial figures to depart during the year was Nick Carter who left the editorship of the Leicester Mercury after over 15 years to take up a role with a local economic development body.

He was replaced by former Associated Northcliffe Digital MD Keith Perch, initially a temporary assignment for Keith which eventually turned into a permanent appointment.

Another big name on the way out was Paul Horrocks who quit as editor of the Manchester Evening News after 12 years, in the same week his paper was crowned the region’s best at the O2 Awards.

And Eastern Daily Press editor Peter Franzen stepped down after 16 years, to be replaced by his deputy Peter Waters in a year which also saw long-standing news editor Paul Durrant leave in a shake-up.

Some of the biggest changes came in the West Midlands. Steve Brown’s job as Trinity Mirror’s regional managing director disappeared in a restructure, but three months later he was named as the new chief executive of the Claverly Group, which owns the rival Express and Star.

And in arguably the most dramatic departures of all, Steve Dyson and Mark Reeves quit as editors of the Birmingham Mail and Birmingham Post respectively, after major changes to their two titles were announced in October.

On the weeklies, the year saw the retirement of the hitherto longest-serving editor in the regional press, the Mansfield Chad’s Jeremy Plews who stepped down after 36 years, to be replaced by Tracey Powell of the Worksop Guardian.

Jeremy’s retirement closely followed that of fellow Johnston Press stalwart, Martin Edmonds of the Doncaster Advertiser, bringing to an end 150 years of involvement by his family in local newspapers.

Simon Irwin’s departure from his role as editorial director of the KM Group sparked a series of senior editorial changes in the South-East region.

His job went to Ian Carter who was in turn replaced as editor-in-chief of Northcliffe’s Surrey and Sussex titles by Frank Le Duc, who had previously been made redundant as deputy editor of The Argus on New Year’s Eve.

In the event, Simon was not out of work for long, re-emerging as a magazine group editor with Archant Life, following in the footsteps of such former regional press luminaries as Roger Borrell, Liz Page and Mike Lowe.

But perhaps the most eloquent statements about the industry’s plight were made by those who left to try their hand at something completely different.

Ex-Knutsford Guardian editor Sue Briggs launched the UK’s first gay wedding magazine, Rugby Advertiser chief Peter Aengenheister took up life coaching and hypnotherapy, while MEN assistant editor Robert Ridley quit to become a driving instructor.

With the industry still facing tough times ahead in 2010, they almost certainly won’t be the last.

  • Next week: The newspaper campaigns and charity efforts that have made a difference over the past 12 months – and the media figures to whom we bade farewell during 2009.