On Friday I was at the the Manchester Chapter of the NUJ’s meeting to fight for local newspapers and halt the proposed job cuts.
It was a passionate and compelling event and one that certainly opened my eyes.
The received wisdom that many might have is that digital media is the main cause of print media’s demise and in turn the local media – it’s an unstoppable force. Well the speakers eloquently expressed a different side to the debate.
One of the key messages and this is especially relevant to the Manchester Evening News and the Guardian Media Group is that the publishers are still making a profit. And those profits were more than healthy when redundancies were made over the last two to three years, including at the MEN.
One fact that might surprise it that The Guardian is not the money maker at the GMG. It was stated that The MEN and local papers actually propped up the flagship paper. What is perhaps more galling for local journalists is that there are no substantial cuts at The Guardian, not that anyone wants any cuts anywhere.
It is the ridiculous effort to prop up unsustainable and ludicrous profit margins that is a prime driver behind the redundancies programme.
One speaker pointed out that Tesco expects to make a profit of 9.8p on every pound spent whereas some publishers expect nearer 40p. Coupled with executive bonuses it is clearly an unsustainable policy.
The result is that if the proposed cuts are to go ahead then the quality of local media will be seriously compromised.
Newspapers are already relying on wires and press releases to a greater extent than ever before. But the figure of 12% that was quoted as the percentage of news that is researched and sourced and written by the journalists themselves was shocking.
What is more journalists are already responsible for taking images, uploading stories onto the web and taking on the subs work. Standards will inevitably diminish and quickly if the proposed cuts are made.
So what is the solution?
Whether news is conveyed in print or web is not the issue here. The issue is the standard of local media and indeed its survival.
And it can survive and prosper.
Initially we all have to as a community make sure the publishers are aware of community feelings and that pressure can be brought to bare.
It is up to the community and if it is not interested in defending our local media then we deserve none. But I think there is enough of us that do – many attending the meeting were not journalists but members of the public showing their support.
Writing to politicians and the papers themselves might be a start – express support and make sure the publishers know the depth of feeling. To their credit there were politicians in the room including John Leech MP for Withington, so that is promising.
One solution could be that journalists take over local titles or set-up co-operative style managed media – an emphasis on quality and not weighted on profit.
Whatever the solution is, the current model of bleeding the local media to sustain unsustainable profits is certainly not the way forward.