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.
For some reason the current crisis in finance / banking is attracting an astonishing bevy of analogies. Many people have gone for classic weather metaphors (tornadoes, hurricanes whirlwinds), others prefer to up the ante and go for natural disasters (tsunamis, fires) and a few – not wanting to be overdone in the over-egging – go rather apocalyptic (black holes, doomsday machines):
‘This is about being in a bigger house in the middle of a financial hurricane. In the last fortnight we have seen financial titans falling like skittles’, The Daily Mail mixes its metaphors.
“The financial tsunami that has engulfed Wall Street since the weekend hit these shores yesterday” The Telegraph editorialises.
“It’s like having a fire in a cinema. Everybody is rushing to the door. You are rushing to the door because everyone is rushing to the door. Clearly, as a collective action, it is a disaster.” explains Hyun Song Shin, an economics professor at Princeton (from the Guardian Wrap).
“This week we face being destroyed by another black hole [following the threat posed by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN]“, says Valentine Low.
And Anatole Kaletsky accuses Hank Paulson of “activating a financial Doomsday machine” and of turning “his guns on his own side”.
A little more creative was the senior London banker who told The Times “The world is on the brink. The market is puking all over us”.
But my favourite came from the economist Joseph Stiglitz, talking on the Today programme: ”Some people are talking about the light at the end of the tunnel – except that light is coming from the front of a freight train barrelling towards us” (from memory)
Please do let me know if you spot any more.