It has come to be accepted, in the media industry as much as in modern life in general, that nothing stays the same for long. The pace of change in newspapers is relentless, and any managers, editors and journalists in the sector who thought they were in a ‘job for life’ have long since been disabused of that fact.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that 2014 saw a marked acceleration both in the transformation of the industry from its printed past to its digital future – and in the personnel changes that have accompanied it.
If the past 12 months have been characterised by radical initiatives to reposition local news media operations for the digital era, it will also be remembered for a dramatic exodus of regional newspaper editors – some of them themselves only relatively recent arrivals to the top table.
The 11 regional daily editors who left their roles in the course of 2014 included those such as John Szymanski of the Sunderland Echo and Steve Hughes or The Press, York whose roles were deemed surplus to requirements, and others such as the Coventry Telegraph’s Alun Thorne, Michael Beard of The Argus and Colin Channon of Newsquest Essex who opted to pursue fresh career opportunities outside the sector.
Those who left without new jobs to go in the short term included Kevan Blackadder (Gloucestershire Echo,) Richard Bettsworth (Leicester Mercury), Richard Bowyer (The Sentinel, Stoke), Dave Brookes (Birmingham Mail), Brian Aitken (The Journal) and Tim Gordon (South Wales Echo).
Of these, Brian Aitken enjoyed the most topsy-turvy year of all. Initially appointed to a senior management role at Trinity Mirror’s North-East division, he continued editing the paper pending the appointment of a successor, only to see his new role then disappear in a restructure.
The Journal and its Newcastle-based sister titles The Chronicle and Sunday Sun had been the first to trial Trinity Mirror’s new ‘Newsroom 3.1′ structure designed to support a digital-first approach to publishing, with all news appearing online first before being reverse-published into the print titles.
The project was later rolled out across the group’s other regional centres, while Johnston Press embarked on a more low-key version, piloting its own new-look newsroom at its North Midlands division which includes the Mansfield Chad and Derbyshire Times.
But if editors were becoming something of an endangered species during 2014, it was an even more turbulent year for photographers and sub-editors.
Johnston Press had already begun reducing the number of staff photographer roles in some of its regional divisions towards the end of the previous year and the trend accelerated in 2014 while also spreading to some Newsquest and Local World divisions.
These were also lean times for sub-editors, prompting one former daily editor, Neil Fowler, to declare that the age of the sub in local newspapers was over and that, in future, all journalists would need to “get it right first time.”
Newsquest continued its ongoing centralisation of production roles to its subbing hub in Newport, which the National Union of Journalists estimated had led to the loss of 120 sub-editing posts within the group overall.
Editorial staff aside, the major casualty of the year in terms of actual print titles was the Reading Post, which, like its Trinity Mirror stablemate the Liverpool Post before it, went from daily to weekly to ceasing print publication altogether within the space of little more than half a decade.
The Post will live on as a digital-only product, www.getreading.co.uk, the success or failure of which may well go a long way towards determining the nature of the local publishing industry in the longer-term.
Other titles hitting the news-stands for the last time in 2014 included the Harrrow Observer, the Surrey Times, the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle and the Burton Advertiser, but as ever, new titles emerged to replace some of those lost, with Tindle Newspapers announcing plans for four new weeklies in London.
And both Trinity Mirror and Local World demonstrated continued faith in print by launching Sunday editions of the Liverpool Echo and the Western Morning News.
The year’s major job moves saw Kevin Booth step up from the editor’s chair at the Burton Mail to one-time Northcliffe flagship the Leicester Mercury following Richard Bettsworth’s departure, James Higgins elevated to the top job at the North West Evening Mail, and a comeback for Marc Reeves who took over from Dave Brookes as editor-in-chief of Trinity Mirror’s west Midlands titles.
And Mike Gilson stunned the industry by giving up the editor’s role at the award-winning Belfast Telegraph to take on the challenge of reviving flagging Brighton daily The Argus after Michael Beard’s move into PR.
The year’s end saw fresh cutbacks by JP alongside the departures of some of the longest-serving weekly editors in the Newsquest group, with Paul Walker in Stourbridge, Skip Walker and Sue Smith in Gloucestershire and Sue Lewis in South Wales among those affected.
As the numbers employed in the industry continued to contract, those left could only hope that better times lay around the corner.