Former editor-turned-newspaper entrepreneur Chris Oakley has delivered a downbeat assessment of the industry’s prospects in a forthcoming book.
The former Liverpool Echo editor who later led a management buy-out of the Birmingham Post and Mail predicts further closures among big-city regional dailies and suggests moving to weekly publication may offer only a “temporary reprieve.”
He is also critical of the industry’s failure to get behind the online jobs, property and motors platform Fish4, which he says could have been “bigger than Rightmove.”
Chris was writing in the forthcoming ensemble publication What Do We Mean By Local? which has been put together by former regional editor Neil Fowler and journalism lecturer John Mair.
Much of Chris’s chapter, entitled ‘The men who killed the regional newspaper industry,’ is taken up with charting his own involvement in a series of 1990s mega-deals including his £125m buy-out of the Post and Mail and the creation of Midland Independent Newspapers.
However he reserves some of his strongest words for the way newspaper companies failed to deal with the threat of the internet and for leaving the joint venture platform Fish4 “paralysed by a lack of investment and direction.”
“Perhaps no-one can honestly claim to have recognised fully the competitive pressures that the internet has brought,” he says.
“However, if the industry had supported Fish4, regional newspapers could now have the largest and best-used property, motors and situations vacant sites, and online estate agency Rightmove would not be worth more than even the biggest regional newspaper group.”
On the prospects for regional titles Chris says that the big city dailies will be “first to arrive in the cemetery.”
“Converting evenings to weeklies, as Northcliffe is doing, may save smaller titles in places such as Bath, Torquay, Scunthorpe and Exeter, but is unlikely to offer more than a temporary reprieve for big city titles like the Birmingham Post and the Liverpool Daily Post.
“In a couple of decades, managements who have overpaid for acquisitions, over-promised to City investors and failed to recognise the threat of the internet have come close to destroying an industry.
“You be the judge of the extent of the MIN team’s culpability in creating the financial climate that brought this about,” he adds.
- ‘What Do We Mean By Local? ‘ will be launched at 6.30pm on 27 March at Coventry University’s London campus, East India House, 109-117 Middlesex Street, London E1.
Tickets are £5 and places can be booked in advance at www.coventry.ac.uk/londoncampusevents