Monday, 14 February 2011

Where next for the cash cows?

So where next for regional newspapers?

We've had a week of speculation since figure for the likes of Newsquest and Northcliffe were released - both showing what we all knew really.

In summary, newspapers are still making quite a lot of money.

However, is has been the way for years, the profit margin is the issue for men in nice suits sitting in head offices up and down the land.

Among the latest to talk shit about the industry was a chap from Northcliffe, a man so nondescript I can't even remember his name.

Anyway, he said consolidation was needed in the industry, despite the fact that consolidation has been rampant in newspapers for years and look where it's got us.

He told Press Gazette: "Our attitude is we think it [consolidation] is worthwhile and a good thing for the industry because it will create bigger businesses who are more able to make the transition to the brave new world.

"There’s obviously going to be a further transition…We are not going to be the consolidator. We are not going to be acquiring other regional newspapers companies to consolidate with Northcliffe.

"I think we have other opportunities in the group for investment. But we are very content to go on operating Northcliffe, it makes good cash flow and so on."

Okay, so let's actually tell it like it is, shall we? Northcliffe thinks consolidation is needed, but won't be consolidating.

Does anyone else smell a 'come and get me' plea?

No wonder he thinks consolidation is needed when clearly Northcliffe would be hugely interested in getting rid of a cash cow that is struggling to produce milk in the quantities of years ago.

Let's not forget, it was Northcliffe who was for sale only a few years ago, only not sold.

So don't patronise us.

Meanwhile, in newsrooms up and down the country, we are being told of the continued squeeze on 'revenues' and the need to make cuts, take furlough leave and such like.

However, in among the headlines of Northcliffe effectively being up for sale, and the drop in 'revenues', it seems to have been missed that Northcliffe's operating profit last year increased - yes, increased - by 24% to £30 million.

That is on revenue down 10% year on year.

So just how hard is it out there? Being complete arses has earned Northcliffe £30 million, an increase.

Now I realise £20 million is a tiny sum of money, but why not just make that much profit in what is widely regarded as the worst recession we've seen, and keep a few of the jobs you've not replaced, or pay those who remain a little bit more?

I know, it's a crazy thought...

But the reality is that the newspaper industry has been a cash cow for a long time, and we - as well as out papers - are simply being milked for all we are worth until profits drop to, oh, I don't know, £10 million? Then we'll be sold off for pennies to another group who will do more of the same.

Depressing, I know, and if anyone can give me an alternative view of the future, I'd love to hear from you.

Email me at, or chat to me on Twitter, @haplesshack

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Inside what? Just get on with it Croydon...

Now, I'm not averse to a good old scrap, be it in print or behind closed doors, so I was particularly amused to see a little tete-a-tete developing between one London editor and a blogger this week.

The esteemed - only by himself admittedly - Inside Croydon recently had a bit of a rant against a campaign run by the Croydon Advertiser, a Northcliffe weeklie.

Inside Croydon claims the paper - in their 'it-was-us-what-won-it' edition - was in collusion with the councillor concerned over the results of a consultation.

Clearly, if Inside Croydon has any actual experience in a newsroom, he'll already know that no newspaper will run a campaign unless a. they can win it, or b. it is a hugely popular lost cause that not even the campaigners expect to win anyway.

So, we all take the Croydon Advertiser gloating with a pinch of salt, as every paper deserves to big itself up every now and again.

But not Mr Inside Croydon, he attacks the paper pretty harshly, with rapier-like wit such as:

"Yet the Croydon Sadvertiser, with its deadline of last Wednesday – a full seven days before the announcement is due – contained extensive details from what it claimed to be a leaked council report, alongside a lovingly staged picture of “Two Permits” Thomas and the paper’s editor receiving a massive ... 250 signatures [coughs with embarrassment].

"The Sadvertiser was very late to this particular story, despite being contacted by local residents’ groups nearly two months ago. In the end, the CRAPP (that’s not too rude; it means Croydon Residents Against Parking Plans) online campaign, and its dedicated band of supporters who leafleted and petitioned in their neighbourhoods, managed to raised [sic] nearly 10 times the number of signatures that the local newspaper did."

Again, as anyone who has ever been involved with regional/local/national newspapers knows, the last thing, the very, very last thing that anyone should do at this point is respond...

Well, I thought everyone knew that anyway.

Cue a rather tetchy response from Croydon Advertiser editor Glenn Ebrey in his online blog.

Glenn, in a total loss of any kind of editorial judgement, hits back with just as non-rapier-like wit, with such gems as:

"Firstly, he continually describes us as the Croydon S-Advertiser, which must have taken a whole 30 seconds to think up. No chance of a job on the subs desk with lame puns like that.

"Then, he goes on to criticise us for daring to start a campaign (a successful campaign, I might add) against Croydon Council’s parking proposals. If we hadn’t bothered with a campaign, we probably would have been criticised for that too. Isn’t campaigning what all good local newspapers should be doing?

"Next, we are slammed for having the cheek to report documents we obtained before their official publication. Isn’t that just good journalism Mr Insider?"

Well, not really Glenn, as anyone who knows anything about journalism will also know that in all probability, there was no Mission Impossible-esque espionage involved in getting the report. Or was there? If so, please email me with the details and I'll happily praise your reporter/s for their efforts!

Anyway, as shit as that response is, it's nothing to what Mr Ebrey does next.

Yes, in true local rag style, he challenges the Inside Croydon blogger to spend a day in his newsroom while boasting of the paper's circulation.

Again, anyone in papers knows this is total bollocks, so stop trying to kid yourself that the Croydon Advertiser is different from any other newspaper in the country Glenn and is enjoying a new-found period of growth and prosperity, it isn't.

However, he wrote: "The mystery blogger also suggests we have an “increasingly small circulation”. Last time I checked, our papers were distributed to more than 100,000 people a week. That sounds like a pretty captive audience to me.

"I have no idea who Mr Insider is because, despite being so forthright in his views, he very bravely decides to remain anonymous.

"But, if you are reading this, I’d like to put forward a challenge to you Mr Insider. Come and spend a day in our office, see how hard our reporters work, the dedication and hours they put into producing the paper each week, and see if it changes your view."

I mean Christ, if you're going to go out on a limb and respond, you might as well do it in a really innovative way; a car park fight perhaps?

But no, the old day in the newsroom challenge it was.

And Inside Croydon's response?

"If you don’t mind, for now we’ll pass your offer for us to give up a day of our expertise to give your staff some training and show them how to do their jobs. And we will continue to judge them, and you, on results."

That was, at least, actually quite funny.

However not unexpected, as the last time I had any contact with Mr Inside Croydon, I was emailed with strict instructions not to publish any of his comments in this blog, I presume due to a sudden burst of shyness.

Oh, the irony...

But in this case, I can't help but doff my cap to Inside Croydon, and wield a sword of disappointment in the direction of Glenn Ebrey for committing the ultimate newspaper crime of rising to the bait and losing.

Disappointing all round really.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Glum Times - an enjoyable two-page read

Oh dear, glum times in the newsroom as the age-old gripe returns; paginations.

In the heady days of easily-achieved 30% profit margins, expenses that served as your food shopping and two reporters (plus photographer) for every job, the possibility of cutting pages was folly, where would there be space for all of the advertisers knocking down our door to hand us their used £50 notes?

Alas, as we all know, those days are long gone.

Instead, we've all seen the cost-cutting initiatives rolled out in force across newspaper groups, all featuring a snappy, employee-friendly name like 'Aim Higher', 'Pursuing Excellence', when they should just be honest and call them 'Pursuing Lost Old Profits' - or PLOP for short.

So it was as we were glumly informed that due to a slow January (when is January not slow?) for advertising, our papers were going to be reduced to about one page of news each.

The raising of eyebrows around the conference table was almost audible among those who have been here before because we know how this goes.

Cut paginations, fewer stories, fewer staff.

The amount of resigned indignation was incredible and I suspect most people in the office are going to spend their Friday afternoon updating their CVs.

So why do management continue to chase that which is long past?

While none of us are so fucking stupid as to pretend things are easy out there, nor are we so naive as to think we are actually losing money.

We're not, and we know it.

Oh no, the problem for those enjoying a whopping pay increase is that the margins are falling, so for example, instead of making a £4,000,000 profit this year, we're heading for a mere £3,000,000 profit.

Obviously, the multinational companies that now own your local and regional newspapers couldn't give a flying fuck that this is still a hugely profitable business, they merely want to earn as much as they can, as much as last year, as much as ten years ago, so fuck us all over in a bid to return to that level.

It's absolute lunacy and must end. And I'm comfortable predicting that it will come to an end, in one way or another, this year.

How long before Newsquest, or Northcliffe, simply grows tired of not making the profits they used to and sells everything?

Surely it won't be long.

And far from fearing that day, I relish it coming, because once the evil empires loosen their grip on everything anyone reads and looks at online, the groups will splinter, some taken on by independent owners, even worker groups.

Then, and only then, will we see a newspaper run properly once more, by people who care about what goes in, what doesn't go in, and cares about the quality of the package over and above a huge profit margin.

Perhaps then we will see a newspaper that is happy with a 10% profit - 10% of a lot is still a lot - and will invest in quality product and people.

But am I just dreaming? You tell me...

Meanwhile, I'm off to update my CV and work out how I can maintain a story count in a newspaper the size of a Starbucks napkin.

You can, should you be minded, follow me on Twitter - @haplesshack - or email me at