Scraping the barrel

October 30, 2008

Well it’s Christmas Eve and I’m at work, so what better way to pass the time than to finally start this blog.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been the editor of a free weekly newspaper (circulation 47,000 if you belive the distribution department) for more than 18 months.

Anway, here’s a potted history of my first editorship.

I joined as deputy editor but on my first day, the editor handed in his notice. I tried not to take it personally.

I was acting ed for six months. Despite having just two full-time reporters and one elderly lady who managed to cram in at least an hours work during her two days a week, I achieved quite a bit.  I was especially succesful in turning a very poor website around – with my figures for page views, uniques etc growing by several hundred per cent each month.

The bigwigs were suitably impressed and gave me the gig full time. It started off ok and I was even allowed to hire a deputy.

But in February things started to go downhill when I lost my pitbull of a reporter – lets call him Frank.

Frank delighted in savaging press officers, councillors, police officers and owners of small bookshops who didn’t want to comment on the latest Harry Potter release. He was a bit too fiery at times, but very effective. However, once he qualified as a senior, he left to go ‘find himself’ in Ethopia.

Naturally, he wasn’t replaced.

In July/August, my other reporter, lets call her Belinda, decided she’d had enough of doing the job of two people, and left for the golden streets of big London.

Again, she wasn’t replaced.

So since the summer, my paper has been  staffed by myself, my deputy, a lady of advancing years who does two days a week and various freelancers who didn’t know the patch. Bear in mind that I also have to sub five to seven pages the sport myself.

Last week (December 19), the last of my (mainly excellent) freelancers left.  Not only does my company have a recruitment freeze, it has now banned freelancers.

It has left myself, my deputy and the part-timer producing a three-edition weekly rag. 

Despite my best efforts – the quality of the paper has dropped somewhat.

There could be a glimmer of hope on the horizon though as my paper is in the process of being sold. The sale has dragged on for a couple of months now, and if it doesn’t go through I fear my paper will be closed. I also have no idea what to expect of my new overlords as they have been making some major cuts of their own recently.

Because of the sale, we’re also slowly being weaned from the nipple of our current owners. So for two months we’ve been unable to get a replacement print catridge, we’re having to supply our own notebooks and pens, they’ve stopped the recycling  collections and taken our water cooler away.

I’m still fighting the good fight, doing my best to get a paper out but it’s a desperate time. I am genuinely afraid for my job. However, I’m still proud of the paper we produce. It’s a long way short of where we should be, but it’s usually on a par with what our rivals produce, even though they have four times as many staff.

I guess my tale is very similar to many papers during this ridiculous financial crisis. The industry appears to be on its knees and the future looks grim for local journalism. But I believe there are enough dedicated individuals like myself still out there who are deluded enough to keep being exploited by the owners because we believe in what we do.