Newspaper meltdown – and what it means for the public

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The last few weeks have been very sobering for anyone still optimistic about the future of the news industry (that’s ‘news industry’ like ‘music industry’, not news itself).

If this year has been painful for the whole economy, it’s been especially blood soaked for the news industry. The economic model for news production was in serious trouble before the international financial crisis of the last few months. Now, not a week goes by without more news of plummeting ad revenues, falling circulations, job cuts and newspaper closures.


And 2009 looks like it will be even worse. The FT reported this week that ‘The newspaper and magazine industry could be “decimated” in 2009 with one out of every 10 print publications forced to reduce publication frequency by more than half, move online or close entirely’ (based on a report by Deloitte). Then today Enders Analysis forecast that ‘more than a third of the UK’s regional newspaper titles will have closed in the UK between 2002 and 2013… [with local titles] already closing at a rate of 10-15 a week’ (from Laura Oliver).

Trying to get an idea of how bad things are is tricky when you’re relying on a bunch of isolated reports, which is why aggregations and timelines are so helpful. Journalism.co.uk is trying to track job losses across the industry,  and has a timeline of articles reporting losses. The Media Guardian has a media downturn section on its site. And Peter Kirwan has pulled together a bunch of reports on Google docs.

If big news organisations do have a strategy, then it seems to be:

1. Cut jobs but maintain print output
This can mean one person doing a job previously reserved for two or three. In Wales, for example, Trinity Mirror plans to have one editor running the Merthyr Express, Rhymney Valley Express and Gwent Gazette, while another edits the Rhondda Leader and Pontypridd Observer and a third the Glamorgan Gazette and Neath and Port Talbot Guardians (from Press Gazette)

2. Close offices and centralise production
Johnston Press have centralised all Northern Ireland production work to Craigavon.  Kent Messenger is centralising production in Larkfield and Wraik Hill. Newsquest is centralising its planning operations for the north-west at Blackburn (from Oliver Luft). The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Evening News are also said to be considering merging production

3. Centralise editorial operations in ‘multimedia hubs’
In the Midlands Trinity Mirror has two new integrated multimedia newsrooms in Birmingham and Coventry. In Cardiff they have a news hub to produce much of the editorial material for their Welsh newspapers. Kent Messenger has centralised its editorial in Medway.

4. Outsource or merge
This seems to be the current strategy of choice for nationals. The Independent will bunk up with the Daily Mail in January, and the Telegraph is, according to Oliver Luft and Ben Dowell, thinking about ‘outsourcing some of its production operations away from its headquarters in Victoria’.

So what does all this mean for the public? Centralising production will bring forward print deadlines and make news in local newspapers even older than it is already. ‘Local’ newspapers will – almost inevitably – feel less local if they are produced from a central editorial hub. Local newspapers with fewer reporters will rely more on material produced by other people (not necessarily PR – could be user-generated content etc.).

Based on this, the outlook for the local press, especially in the short to medium term, seems pretty bleak. Though this ignores, of course, all the information coming from sources other than traditional news organisations, and from the new news providers online.

Still, for those people who believe in the quasi-constitutional role of the press, especially the local press, it has been a grim year indeed.

Written by Martin Moore

December 12th, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response to 'Newspaper meltdown – and what it means for the public'

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  1. Outsourcing is when you hire outside professionals or services to take on part of your business workload. You may want to outsource part of your work because you don’t have the room, you need an expert, you have periodic busy periods, or you need more production to get orders out on time, etc. There are many ways outsourcing can save your business time and money. http://www.infysolutions.com

    Quillan

    17 Jan 09 at 7:16 am

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