Friday, September 25, 2009

Neath&Port Talbot no more

On BBC Wales this morning talking about the closure of the Neath and Port Talbot Guardians, which have been announced by Media Wales, a division of Trinity Mirror.

The company has blamed the economic downturn for the closures, which will result in the loss of 13.2 jobs (who's the .2?)

One might forgive the company this sad decision, had it, during the times of massive profits, ie five years ago, invested in its newspaper operations to make them a more attractive proposition to readers and advertisers. Now, in a time of not-quite-so-massive profits, decisions to close loss-making operations might have been justifiable.

But let's just look at what the senior management of this company have done in the good times to equip Trinity Mirror for the bad times that now afflict them.

Their 'big idea' was to send in the time and motion men. Blokes with reams of paper, who surveyed every inch of the business looking for fat to trim so that it could post the even-bigger profits its shareholders demanded.

Every newsroom had a visit from these people. Who came up with stunning ideas like: "Rather than check, rewrite and add to press releases, why not just cut'n'paste them into the paper, saving time and money?" Brilliance like that is beyond price.

As a result newsrooms were slashed. Not through redundancy, but by non-recruitment of trainees and non-replacement of staff. A gradual process of attrition that has left these places understaffed and lacking in experienced reporters.

And that was in the times of plenty. Ad revenues were good, circulation was in a gentle but manageable decline. These businesses were very, very profitable.

Then the bad times come round and what's their big idea now? More cuts. This time redundancies which, understandably, have been seized by some veteran journalists who were the heart and soul of these operations. And who can blame them leaving newspapers where their knowledge, contacts and expertise are treated with such contempt by national management?

Now we get closures, such as the ones announced in Neath and Port Talbot.

But here's the thing. Not so long ago the BBC was planning a network of ultra-local TV output. The regional newspaper industry squealed for all it was worth at a plan which they said was using the licence-fee to duplicate services they were already providing. The BBC's plans were abandoned, to the delight of the newspaper industry.

That argument holds water as long as you are not closing newspapers. Where are the people of Neath and Port Talbot going to get their news now? (Incidentally there are 130,000-plus people living in Neath and Port Talbot, if you can't run a profitable newspaper there then one wonders where you can run one at all)

From TM's 'digital platforms' - I don't think so. From the Western Mail? - can't see it getting down to the nitty-gritty of parish pump stuff from Neath somehow.

If TM cannot or will not give local communities the service they want, then I hope the BBC's ultra local plans are revived and this time the protests of newspaper corporations are ignored.

1 comment:

martincloake said...

I'm glad someone else has pointed this out. It amazes me how so many media organisations have been allowed to get away with claiming that "now" cuts must be made because of the recession. As quite a few colleagues have said to me, it's hard to remember the times when the media employers were dishing out resources. Interesting too to ponder whether the definition of recession is always "losing money" or often "not making as much as we used to". Short termism is the great disease of British business.

A former editor of mine said last week: "There is absolutely no respect for real skills that create this 'content': researching, writing, taking pictures and making things look nice via design.
If good journalists didn't exist, there would be nothing to fill these multi-platforms with, yet journalists are the least respected of all the professions in the supply chain."

That kind of comment is usually dismissed as the wailing of out-of-touch journalists with no commercial nous. Which rather proves the point.