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Review of 2010: The year of fragile recovery

If 2009 was a battle for survival that left the regional newspaper industry somewhat battered and bruised, 2010 at least saw a slowing in the rate in revenue and circulation decline.

Not only did Claire Enders’ infamous prophecy of doom predicting the closure of hundreds of local titles once again prove to be wrong, the company themselves admitted it was wrong.

But the green shoots of the early spring and summer – such as they were – were almost choked by a second successive ‘awful autumn’ in which large-scale job losses were again back on the agenda.

It was clear that doubts about the state of the wider economy – not to mention fears about the rising cost of newsprint – were making bosses extremely wary about the industry’s prospects for the year ahead.

The big takeover story of the year was Trinity Mirror’s purchase of GMG Regional Media for £7m cash and a £37m print contract.

The new owners certainly made their presence felt. Within a few months, the Manchester Evening News moved from its city centre base to a new home at Oldham, while Maria McGeoghan had been named its first-ever female editor.

Trinity also had its hands full in Birmingham, with an old fashioned newspaper war against entrepreneur Chris Bullivant’s latest start-up, the Birmingham Press.

Rather predictably, this all ended in tears for Mr Bullivant, whose venture went bust owing £343,000, including £37,000 to unpaid freelances.

Meanwhile the debate over online paywalls raged on as regional publishers continued to look for ways of monetising their online presence.

Johnston Press quietly dropped its short-lived experiment in charging visitors for local newspaper content, with one insider claiming the move had been a “disaster.”

With people seemingly unwilling to pay for web content, some saw charging for news apps as a more promising potential revenue stream.

Again, there was a certain amount of trial and error here, with some titles launching free apps while others went down the paid-for route.

Johnston Press was also in the news with the roll-out of its controversial Atex content management system leading to the introduction of more centralised subbing hubs and some long journeys to work for some.

It led to threats of group-wide strike action by the National Union of Journalists, but this collapsed when the company successfully sought a High Court injunction.

The NUJ then turned its attentions to Newsquest and its ongoing pay freeze, with votes for industrial action across a number of newspaper centres.

But the year ended with the freeze being finally lifted, as US parent company Gannet approved offers of 2pc to journalists in some centres

As ever the year saw its fair share of departures, with Press and Journal editor Derek Tucker perhaps the biggest name leaving the industry – though not before firing a parting shot at the state of journalism training which lit up the Society of Editors’ conference.

Others moving on included Alan Powell, who stepped down as editor of Sheffield’s Star following a major heart attack, to be succeeded by John Furbisher.

Also bowing out was Andy Wright, whose 40-year career took in two regional editorships, the Shropshire Star and the Western Daily Press.

And South Wales Echo editor Mike Hill accepted a new post in academia, triggering a reshuffle that saw his job go to Wales on Sunday boss Tim Gordon and Alison Gow land the Sunday title.

Perhaps the most surprising move saw Donald Martin give up his role as editor-in-chief of Glasgow’s Herald and Times group for the editorship of the Sunday Post in Dundee, saying it had always been his ambition to edit a Sunday title.

Meanwhile at senior management level, it was another topsy-turvy year for Steve Brown, with the former Trinity exec enduring a short-lived spell as chief executive of the Claverley Group before finally sailing into port as JP’s new Northern regional MD.

Finally, there were those who decided the grass was greener outside of the world of newspapers, with award-winning Worksop Guardian editor George Robinson quitting to run a toy business and Robert Ridley setting up his new driving school after leavingh the MEN last year.

With the industry continuing to contract and another tough year in prospect, the chances are they won’t be the last.

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  • December 24, 2010 at 10:12 am
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    Companies face a crucial year for new media. Web income, especially on small weeklies, is minimal against newspaper revenue and has not been the income provider hoped for. Yet firms cannot drop web sites. They might need to concentrate on being information-led rather then news led, because it seems people are not interested in small beer local news on websites, although they will shell out for a paper once a week.

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