Wouldn’t it be impressive if the media industry pulled together to help save the Oldham Chronicle?
The thought grew when I read comments from Nigel Skinner – editor of the newly-launched Oldham Reporter – that his paper, along with the new rival Oldham Times and the new Oldham edition of the Manchester Evening News, could all survive with the Chronicle in a ‘friendly’ newspaper war.
Let’s deal with that distraction first: to use a word I’ve never coined before, what a load of balderdash, Nigel!
In a town like Oldham, where the daily Chronicle’s sales had fallen to little more than 6,400 a day, there’s no chance whatsoever that three individual papers and a daily MEN edition could co-exist in the long term.
The naïve idea reminded me of an attempt in the mid-1990s by the then Aston Villa FC owner Doug Ellis to launch a Sunday newspaper in Sutton Coldfield, when he felt the town – already served by two traditional weeklies – had room for another on the Sabbath.
Ian Dowell, the then editor of the Birmingham Evening Mail, was furious, and launched a second Sunday paper in the town in retaliation, which for a short period meant little Sutton Coldfield was directly covered by FOUR weekly papers.
Within three months Doug was forced to close his new paper because of a lack of advertising, and the rival Sunday closed soon after, followed a few years later by the closure of the Sutton Coldfield News, which had been the town’s oldest paper.
Today, only the Sutton Coldfield Observer serves the West Midlands town, which has a population of some 95,000 – remarkably similar to Oldham’s population of 96,000.
The same could now happen in Oldham, although twenty years after the Sutton Coldfield experiment the printed media sector is in such a state that it’s more likely that none of the four papers will survive if they try to battle it out.
So what should happen instead to help save the Oldham Chronicle?
Ideally, the first thing is that Newsquest (owners of the Oldham Times), Quest Media (owners of the Oldham Reporter) and Trinity Mirror (owners of Oldham edition of the MEN) should all agree to close their new offspring.
Yes, you read that correctly: voluntarily culling their own products, a rare and bold submission that would give the revived Oldham Chronicle – in either its daily or a changed weekly format – a chance to regain a commercially viable position.
But that’s not all: the whole media industry could then pull together to give the Chronicle an even better chance, starting with those large neighbours at Newsquest and Trinity Mirror again.
One of them should offer to give the resuscitated Chronicle a free or cost-only print slot on its presses for a six-month ‘grace and favour’ period (probably Trinity Mirror, given they used to print the paper before its demise).
And the other should help in another meaningful way – perhaps with Newsquest offering to run the Chronicle’s distribution and newspaper sales free of charge, or at a nominal price, again for an initial six-month period. The rest of the industry could help too:
- A six-month secondment (as a donation) of the industry’s top digital experts from every big publisher to help the Chronicle make its online launch the very best in Britain.
- A free (or cheap) six-month provision of national and international news from the Press Association.
- A donation (or low-cost provision) of newsprint for six months from the UK’s main suppliers.
- A one-off grant from Google, Facebook, Reuters or Sky – or maybe from all four – to give the Chronicle a kickstart.
- Even small contributions, like a year’s free membership of the News Media Association, and other trade bodies.
Even with all the above, Revolution 96.2 would still have to produce a top-notch operational plan for the Chronicle, with sensible start-up costs, modest staffing and rational pagination plans.
But with the whole industry behind it – if only for a half-year launch period – the Chronicle could live again, maintaining its 163-year heritage in the town.
Come on you media industry magnates: be magnanimous and show the world how much the UK cares about saving its own industry.