I was saddened to read this report on HoldtheFrontPage earlier this month: Sister dailies’ print operations to merge in latest ‘Live’ rollout.
This latest efficiency drive by Trinity Mirror (now known as Reach but, as with the renaming of ‘linesmen’ as ‘assistant referees’, I just can’t do it) will result in a net loss of seven roles, with a ‘marginal’ increase in staffing levels in Manchester.
But I’m not commenting on the actual staffing reductions involved: after all, I’ve not seen the restructuring documents, I’m not privy to the various ‘working from home’ proposals, nor to the separate digital resources that the company might argue make these changes viable.
Instead, I’m just voicing concern at what this increasing regionalisation of what were always meant to be local newspapers might mean for the wider industry and its audiences.
The idea that Huddersfield’s daily newspaper can now be effortlessly created 24 miles away in Manchester – on t’other side of Pennines – led me to consider the potential upshots for other much-loved, historical and once proudly local tomes.
Because if Trinity Mirror feel that this is the way to go, and if the closely watching Newsquest and Johnston Press follow suit, then we could shortly see the same happen to numerous dailies. Keeping that ‘24 miles’ in mind for a moment, here are just a few possible examples:
- The Coventry Telegraph’s staff, currently based in, er, Coventry, merged into a single print team with the Birmingham Mail, in an office 23 miles up the road.
- The Greenock Telegraph’s staff, currently based in Greenock, merged with the Evening Times in Glasgow, an office again based 23 miles away.
- The Derby Telegraph’s staff, currently based in Derby, merged with the Nottingham Post, in an office only 16 miles away.
Do you see what I mean? Map the geographies of dozens of other supposedly ‘local’ newspapers with their nearest ‘sister’ titles, and you’ll soon realise how many are within that 24-mile distance of the other.
I’m not for a moment trying to invite the inevitable wrath from the editors-in-chief of the above publishers at my comparisons: we all know the pressures, we all realise that plc-owned newspapers must find efficiencies, and we all realise that they – the bosses – are in a tight spot for their next savings.
But whatever the undoubtedly honest plans of current editorial leaders, I see the inevitable risk that the remaining reporting resources in smaller urban areas will continue to be chipped away at or even disappear in future target-setting. This ongoing drive for more cuts could mean:
- Larger towns and cities taking over the newspaper staff of smaller towns or cities, relocating them (those who aren’t made redundant) away from their original bases.
- The remaining readers of those smaller newspapers increasingly feeling that the journalism they are reading has decreasing knowledge, poorer accuracy and less feel for the detail of their areas.
- This falling faith in local newspapers damaging the trust that those brands’ online versions were hoping, nay praying, to inherit.
How long will it be before the likes of Barrow, Oxford, Newport and Portsmouth – to name just four random and far-flung examples – have no local newspaper office, printed publication or even an established website that can honestly be called their own?
The growing regionalisation of local news: that’s the topic that someone, somewhere should be insisting tops the bill at the next Society of Editors’ conference in Manchester this November.