Wanted -- Someone to report as journos march to protest job loss

As newspaper shares slide, City expects drastic change

By Roy Greenslade/London Evening Standard

A group of journalists are highlighting their anger about newspaper
redundancies by dressing as cowboys and cowgirls. On Wednesday
morning, 38 members of the National Union of Journalists in Sutton
Twickenham began their Wild West protest outside their papers because
of a decision by their publisher to close the sports and leisure
department at the cost of nine jobs.

Two months ago, weekly paper journalists in Enfield staged a mock
funeral as a way of demonstrating to local people the danger their
papers were facing.In Darlington, journalists marched through the town
to raise awareness about the plight of newspapers suffering from staff
cuts. These are not isolated incidents.

For the last year or so, various towns across Britain have witnessed
an upsurge of old-fashioned industrial action - picket lines, street
protests, public petitions - by people who are not noted for such
militancy. Well, not since the NUJ's left-wing period in the 1970s

By their nature, these small, localised actions hardly register on the
national stage. Similarly, the deep malaise of the newspaper industry
itself, the reason for both the union's concern and its revival, has
hardly made waves. Yet there is no denying that newspaper companies,
big and small, are facing the worst crisis in their history. The City
knows it. Share prices have reached alarming depths.

Stock in one of the big four regional chains, Johnston Press, has been
trading at 4.5p of late, valuing a company that once commanded a
market cap of £600 million at a mere £30 million. Trinity Mirror,
owner of both national and regional titles, has seen its share price
slide to 43p.  The Daily Mail & General Trust, owner of successful
national titles and part owner of the Evening Standard plus regional
papers, is in much better stock market shape. Even so, the shares are
only just above its 52-week low.

Nor does American ownership help. The last of the major regional
quartet, Newsquest, is owned by the largest newspaper publisher in the
United States, Gannett, and its Wall Street price has been shaky for
months. It is trading at just over $13, down from its 12-month high of
almost $19. Mid-sized British publishers - including Archant, the
Midlands News Association and the Kent-based KM group - and smaller
outfits, such as Tindle Newspapers and the CN group in Cumbria, are
all feeling the heat. No publisher has been immune to the structural
problems afflicting the business of producing newspapers.

Amid the worst economic downturn in recent history, advertising
revenue is drying up. Classified advertising, once the bedrock for
local weeklies, has largely migrated to internet sites that provide a
free service. A brief revival of ad volume, particularly in the
property market, has gone back into the doldrums. Recruitment ads have
vanished. People are still buying and selling cars, but not many do so
through local papers.

Meanwhile, the slow, relentless decline in circulations continues
quarter upon quarter. That has had two effects: it has reduced income
and it has decreased the likelihood of attracting advertisers or, at
least, any that are willing to pay anything but a heavily discounted
price for space. The result has been a whole range of cutbacks by
companies desperate to save themselves from ruin in the hope of an
eventual change of economic fortunes. Company pensions have all but
vanished. Staffing has been pared back. Outsourcing has become
familiar. Small offices are being closed in favour of larger,
centralised "hubs".

Some of this has been the result of utilising labour-saving digital
technology. Some has been a ruthless reduction of body counts.
Journalists affected by this wave of rationalisation measures have,
naturally enough, baulked at their treatment. They have twin concerns
- they worry about their own futures and the future of their trade. It
is noticeable that NUJ strikers are increasingly seeking to emphasise
the likely democratic deficit should papers fail. The slogan
"journalism matters" is an echo across the picket lines.

It is not all bad news. For example, reporters working for Archant's
east London titles may be without a physical office, but they remain
in their patches courtesy of the virtual offices provided by their
lap-tops. Being their own bosses on a daily basis gives them more

Similarly, the experience of outsourcing - particularly the creation
of a sort of production "factory" by the national news agency, the
Press Association - has not been as appalling in practice as many
critics predicted. Reporting is a different matter. Reducing the
contact between journalists and the people they serve is a backward
step. It is not too far-fetched to suggest that it is to the detriment
of democracy.

I readily concede that we are seeing the rise of news blogs and all
manner of hyperlocal digital initiatives aimed at building a new form
of local journalism. But these start-ups are in their infancy and as
good as some are, none match good local papers, or even not-so-good
local papers. They are, in the main, pleasant additions, not least
because they tend to act as watchdogs on their newsprint colleagues.
Most significantly, there is precious little money flowing towards
news websites. Bloggers may well point to the broken business model of
newspapers - but they have no alternative themselves thus far.

It would be remiss of me, as I contemplate the gloom and doom of the
industry as a whole, to overlook the success of the regenerated
Evening Standard. It has discovered the virtues of publishing a
quality newspaper and distributing it for free. The result has been a
booming increase in audience, as the latest National Readership Survey
figures show. More than 1.6 million people were reading each issue in
the six months up to March this year. And the bulk of them were
affluent and they were young, under 35.

London is a place apart, but the Metro title has also succeeded in
making handsome profits from free distribution across cities and
conurbations in Britain and Ireland. The free model, as long as it
supports proper journalism, may yet be worth more investment by more

Finally, to finish on a further positive note, the latest annual study
by PricewaterhouseCoopers into global entertainment and the media does
suggest that traditional media will remain vibrant in 2015. Meanwhile,
I think we journalists should not turn our backs on the Twickenham


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