Here’s some friendly advice to Google’s UK boss Ronan Harris as he prepares to address what’s predicted to be a ‘tough audience’ at the Society of Editors’ conference in November.
First, think twice before accepting any arguments – most recently made by the News Media Association (NMA) – that publishing giants like Newsquest, Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press deserve a subsidy from your growing global treasure chest.
Why? Well, let’s start with profits, and while they’re often reported in different ways they all still seem to be making sacks of money:
- Newsquest achieved £23.5m pre-tax profits in 2016.
- Trinity Mirror achieved £38.2m pre-tax profits in the first half of 2017.
- Johnston Press achieved £16.2m operating profits in the first half of 2017.
And as for the subject of executive pay, well …
Speaking on behalf of such publishers, David Dinsmore, the vice-chairman of the NMA, pleaded for them to be “appropriately rewarded” by the likes of Google (and Facebook) for their contribution to social networks. He said:
“None of the growth in ad revenues is coming back to the publishers who invest billions across the globe in that content creation. News publishers are seeking a fair reward for the considerable value they add to the digital ecosystem.”
Well I’m sorry, Mr Dinsmore (also the chief operating officer for Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, publishers of The Sun, by the way), but why should such publishers get any handouts when they seem so keen to exploit the markets of smaller local publishers in serious financial trouble?
Yes, I’m talking about you, Newsquest, launching the weekly Oldham Times, and you, Trinity Mirror, launching an Oldham edition of the Manchester Evening News, while administrators still search for a buyer-come-rescuer of what was the independent but now closed Oldham Chronicle.
Back to Mr Harris at Google: do you really think that any handouts to publishing giants will be spent on securing proper journalistic coverage of the growing numbers of UK towns that have been left without a newspaper title, online or in print?
Or do you not suspect that such charity could well end up simply helping such groups to suck the commercial juice out of remaining markets in a harsh plc world that long-ceased caring about local news?
Surely it would be far better for Google, Facebook and other potential benefactors to make journalistic grants to truly entrepreneurial, independent news organisations, such as:
- The Local Voice Network, set up by former Bristol Post assistant editor Richard Coulter and head of advertising Emma Cooper, who launched Filtonvoice in the Bristol suburb in 2011 and have since gone on to launch 15 more local titles.
- Iliffe Media, owned by Edward Iliffe, who poured millions of his own money made from the break up of Local World into launching the Cambridge Independent, later buying 13 titles unwanted by Johnston Press and, as if that wasn’t enough, then rescuing another 13 titles in a ‘white knight’ deal with KM Group.
- The Wokingham Paper, launched by journalist Phil Creighton in the face of closures by publishing giants because he felt that his town deserved a printed paper.
I’m sure HoldtheFrontPage readers will have a dozen more examples of set-ups which deserve assistance from Google and co before publishing giants are considered.
Please feel free to list them in your comments here.