Dream a little dream…

May 6, 2009

Today I’m taking a quick trip to Cloud Cuckoo Land as I’ve decided that I’m going to win the £110 million Euro Lottery jackpot on Friday.

After treating myself a nice little mansion (complete with an indoor five-a-side football pitch) and a swanky pair of leather trousers (always a good look for a 30-something chubster), I’m going to use the change to buy myself a fair sized regional newspaper.

But this wont be a rich man’s folly (ok, maybe it will be a bit), as I honestly believe my newspaper will make healthy money. And if doesn’t, then at least I’ll still be doing something worthwhile with my not-very-hard-earned cash.

Yes, I’ve read all the blogs, articles and listened to the poisonous pundits predicting the inevitable demise of the regional newspaper. And I’ve seen the depressing financial statements of the big players.
I’m also a paid up member of the adapt-to-new-technology-or-die school.
But I think the reason many newspapers will cease to be is not because the newspaper is a dying platform.

It’s purely down to greed.

If the big companies could accept that the 30% profit margins of five and ten years ago will soon be about 10% to 15%, and that that the £180million of 2005 could fall as low as £80million in the 2010, then they’d have a chance at survival.

It wont happen of course. The shareholders are still demanding unrealistic dividends so the bosses will keep making cuts to try and meet them. They’ll do so until the last remaning journalist dies of exhaustion or it dawns on the final reader that he’s simply being fed rewritten press releases.

But I still believe in newspapers as a medium. TV didn’t kill the cinema or radio, and the internet didn’t kill books. Audiences fell, but they remained viable.
The smarter among you will point out that newspaper audiences are falling at a more alarming rate than those, but I think the figures will eventually bottom out.

And if you marry the remaining audiences to other platforms, then the product might still work.

So, how would my newspaper work? Well, basically as a not-for-profit venture.
I’m already stupidly wealthy remember and I’m pretty sure I could live with just the one hoveryacht.

I’m well aware that a stand-alone product probably wouldn’t cut it, but as I’ve not completed the internet yet, I’d employ smarter people than myself to play around with the multi-platform diversification malarky.

My goal is simple – a newspaper (or news product) which can sustain local journalism. While I wont care about increasing my profits every year, I’m not completely stupid and I’d want it to at the very least break even, rather than eating into the tens of millions of pounds sitting in my Barclays Super Saver account.

In very simplistic terms, the paper I work for currently can pay all its staff and overheads for the year in about six or seven months. Everything else is money in the bank (or rather subsidises other parts of the business and keeps the shareholders in hand cream). And this is in the middle of a recession.
Things would have to get a lot worse for it to start losing money.

My last post but one explains a bit about how my current paper is making money so I wont bore you too much here. Basically it’s by not being (as much of) a slave to rigid corporate policies and not giving away adverts so cheaply it harms the product.

So with the profit I think I can make, I can strengthen the business by reinvestment, putting cash aside for bleaker times and even sharing some of it about with those who helped to make it – either with genuinely fair salaries or, God forbid, bonuses.

As for staff, I’ve already got a mental list of the most talented individuals I’ve worked with for the more plum positions.

It’s a dream and a very flawed, naïve dream. But maybe one of us die-hard news types will strike it lucky and give something like this a go.

In the meantime I better get back to doing three people’s jobs.


Milk and honey

February 27, 2009

Right, after bashing university students in my last post, here is a great piece by third-year journalism student Steve Carpenter. It’s a report of a speech given by Bob Satchwell, he of the Society of Editors fame. He sent it to HoldtheFrontPage, who I hope paid him properly for it.  http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/news/090227satchwell.shtml 

Now I’ve always felt Bob was too quick to defend the tabloids whenever they stepped over the mark rather than giving them the odd kicking that they clearly deserve, but I can respect his views and he usually argues a good case.

But this speech he made to students at Coventry beggars belief.

It may be a case of telling his audience what they wanted to hear – ie that their pointless three year course (sorry Steve) is likely to lead to a job and (according to the PG) that the ‘land of milk and honey’ will return to newspapers soon – but it’s such rose-tinted nonsense that it could have been written by one of the ‘owners’.

Now before you dismiss Bob’s claim as utter tosh, or choke at his statement that the downturn could be good for the press, read this other little gem from him first:

“There are lots of stories about journalists being made redundant, which hides the fact that there are lots of other journalists that have actually been employed. There are more journalists now employed than there were ten years ago.”

Marvellous. Well done Bob. What spectacular awareness of our industry you have.

To be fair, I suppose you could argue that stories about the Kent Messenger group slashing a quarter of its staff, Northcliffe, Johnson Press and others ‘centralising production’, the heavy cuts at Bristol… (I could go on but you get the point)….are taking the limelight away from the seven reporting jobs being advertised on Holdthefrontpage at the moment – a whole two of these are for trainees.

I was actually about to join the society this week – which funnily enough has just been complaining about a fall in subscriptions – but I really don’t think I’ll bother now as it seems to have become the official mouthpiece for the owners rather than editors struggling to get their ‘products’ out because of the lack of staff.

I tell you what Bob, I’ll send in my cheque as soon as this land of milk and honey returns.