Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Falling off the North Cliffe?

Mr Auckland, who is now an industry God through his work making the Metro everyone's favourite news-for-nothing publication, was strangely forthright in his opinions, if not a little contradictory.

Take this quote for example:

"If you have stacks of titles and lots of loss-makers and lots publishing six days a week and not making money you have to look at the portfolio.

"I want a step change. It might be harsh but it gives a platform for the future. The key thing is a product portfolio review. We have to look at the number of titles and frequency of publishing."

I don't think anyone could argue with the first par. No business, run by the giant arses of Northcliffe, Newquest or otherwise, wants to keep running a title that continues to lose money year after year.

So fair enough.

However, the contradiction for me comes when the piece explains Auckland was "keen to stress he is not a hatchet man".

Well, I would suggest that's exactly what he is, judging by his own words. Threatening to look at all titles and the frequency of publishing is clearly an indication that the hatchet is about to be wielded.

There may be nothing wrong with that, but at least be honest.

Anyway, I'm merely nit-picking there.

There real interest comes with other remarks, particularly:

"Less is more is my motto: I want a clear vision at each operating centre. I'm trying to do away with the corporate stuff and getting the editors and the managing directors free to do what they want to do in their centres," he added.

"Originally regional newspapers were run by entrepreneurial-type people back in the halcyon days. I want to get back to that flexibility. If they want to change the cover price or business cards or say that publishing on one day, or two, or staying at six is most profitable then I want them to have that flexibility."

'Less is more', to idiots like me, can simply be truncated to 'less'. Again, Mr Auckland, please just be honest. Less will NEVER be more, it is a complete misnomer on every conceivable level.

We all understand the "halcyon days" went as soon as Gannett darkened UK doors, so please don't patronise us with the usual bullshit, we've had enough of 'aim higher' initiatives and the likes which always seem to make us more efficient and still manage to do away with hard-working people.

However, it cannot be disputed that Northcliffe does indeed now have less, or more, if you are Mr Auckland. 50% more, or less, in fact, as Peter Kirwan points out in his excellent blog.

"Overall, the numbers for the six years between 2005 and 2010 are remarkable:

Headcount: Down by over 50% from 8,013 to 3,817
Quoted cumulative cost savings: £125m
Quoted restructuring costs (incl. redundancy): £71m
Quoted write-downs in asset values: £200m"

So Mr Auckland, you have inherited a group which indeed has a lot 'more' than previously, so good luck with that.

But basically, what all of this ponderingly bad writing is attempting to convey is that, as Mr Kirwan also points out, "plans for industry consolidation have gone badly awry".

Indeed they have. Lord Rothermere couldn't flog Northcliffe a few years ago, so what hope now?

My bet is that we will see more and more dailies become weeklies - watch your backs any newspaper showing figures down 10%+ - and some under-performing weeklies either sold or merely closed down.

I am also intrigued by the idea that editors will suddenly be enjoying a new-found freedom under Mr Auckland to basically edit their papers.

I am eagerly awaiting the day this is put to the test by an editor who wishes to reward his staff with a pay rise, or an extra reporter...

I do love the term "consolidation" though, as it would suggest joining something together for an all-round gain, a positive, for growth.

And don't we all know that is absolute shite? Consolidation has brought nothing but evil to journalism.

Look at it like this: a sub hub is a group of sub editors consolidated to one location.

A good thing?

Fuck it, let's all have a drink.

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