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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Bravery of The Sun

Courageous move that by The Sun, backing the Tories, or rather, abandoning Labour.

How upset Labour  are depends on where your bullshit detector points between Harriet Harman's, rather tepid "we're all angry but we won't be bullied" rant; rumours that Brown berated Sun execs with a four-letter tirade and Labour spin that it doesn't really matter.

Look, Labour, or rather Tony Blair, would not have courted Rupert Murdoch the way they did if it didn't matter. But perhaps they were taking the Sun Tzu approach of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. Either way, after the paper's declaration in 1992 that "It's the Sun Wot Won It" when John Major defeated Neil Kinnock with a little help from his friends at Wapping who exhorted the last person to leave Britain if Kinnock won to turn off the lights.

But that was 17 years ago, when the internet was just being born and things have changed in the way people relate to newspapers.

Not that newspapers had as much impact as they would have you believe if you take account of this study which states that while papers might hold some sway over individuals, it would be wrong to overstate their influence on the outcome of elections.

A view echoed by Alistair Campbell, who writes on his blog: "...people will make their own minds up. What a daily paper urges them to do will figure marginally if at all in that judgement, and provided Labour continues to defend the record, take the fight to the Tories, and set out the forward policy agenda with clarity and vigour, the battle ahead can still be won."

My point is that back in 1992 The Sun might get away with claiming its part in the Conservative victory. But now, in a political scene no longer dominated by print media, where 24-hour news and internet sources are far more likely to break political news than The Sun is, it's a brave move for a dead-tree outlet to claim as much influence as it does.

Of course, if the gamble pays off then it will no doubt run a suitably self-adulatory headline the next day. But what if they don't?

What if the economic recovery is just round the corner and its effects are felt before the next election? What if the electorate decides that on balance things are looking up and they don't want to gamble on the Tories?

The Tories will weather it of course and hope to be back next time. But for the paper that backed them and failed to get Cameron into Downing St it could be far more devastating. An unmistakable sign that the paper had been emasculated and its political influence was at an end.

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On the radio, again

On BBC Radio Wales tomorrow morning, 8.45am, talking about the closure of the Neath&Port Talbot Guardian.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

On the radio

On BBC Radio Wales tomorrow morning (Wed) talking about why the Evening Leader is no longer an evening paper.

I started work on the Leader as a junior reporter, back in 1988.