People who know me will know I’m a big supporter of journalists, nationally and locally. Nationally is especially significant on a day when we are mourning two world class photojournalists killed doing their job in Libya.
And on a local level, thriving and supportive local papers are part of the warp and weft of a community and we are very lucky to have some of the best in Norfolk – especially the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) and The Norwich Evening News. So when I saw a bit of uncharacteristically imprecise nonsense in the EDP and realised it was obviously management-speak I was concerned and wanted to understand the implication for MY local paper. So I invited a former Archant journalist (there are a number that I know) to write a guest blog post. Please read to the end and if you have any reason at all to be grateful to our local papers (and most of us do), send some emails off to raise your concerns.
So, a former Archant journalist writes:
Up to 20 journalism jobs could be lost at Archant Norfolk – publisher of the Eastern Daily Press, Norwich Evening News, many weekly newspapers and magazines. So why should you care? Everyone’s losing their job at the moment. Journalists are just those people who copy and paste press releases and hack into you voicemail all day. Right?
I’m well aware that a journalist asking for support from the public is likely to elicit as much sympathy as an MP explaining why his duck house is crucial to the smooth running of the country. But here’s the thing: journalists don’t want sympathy. Of course they’re worried about their jobs. Personally I’m very worried about friends whose livelihoods are at risk. But I’m also worried about the future of the titles they work for. What is really needed is for people to think long and hard about how regional newspapers may have helped them at some point in their life.
Journalists all care deeply about newspapers and believe the regional press has a key role to play in highlighting local issues, holding the authorities to account and providing information that you just wouldn’t get anywhere else. Sounds idealistic? Well yes it is, but we certainly didn’t choose this job for the money.
Don’t believe the statements put out by management. They say they will cut 20 jobs but also create new roles. George Orwell couldn’t have come up with a better example of doublethink. They say these changes will put the newspapers closer to the heart of the community. They won’t. Even if reporter numbers are maintained/increased, those reporters will be tied to their desks not out in the community.
First of all this isn’t just 20 jobs going. In 2009 the company axed 24 posts from its 179-strong editorial team. Combined with the latest proposals, this represents about a quarter of staff. On top of this many experienced journalists have chosen to leave and have either not been replaced or been replaced by cheaper, less experienced candidates. Ask yourself this question: do you think the papers have got better since 2009? I certainly don’t. So will they get better or worse after management go through with their latest plans?
Essentially what they want to do is get rid of sub editors (who lay out the pages), photographers and many other people whose names don’t necessarily appear in the paper but who are vital to its production.
There will also be fewer feature writers which means fewer longer entertaining and enlightening reads. It means less capacity to get to grips with and cover Norfolk life in detail.
There will be fewer checks and balances and less attention to detail. The staff who remain will take on the work of those who go. They will not be able to focus on quality in the same way they have in the past and they will be asked to do jobs they have not been trained for and do not have sufficient time to do properly. For example, laying out pages is a highly skilled role but increasingly reporters will be doing this using what is a very expensive and very poorly designed glorified desktop publishing system.
It’s also worth pointing out that we’re not talking about a failing company: Archant made a profit of £8.2m in the last financial year. The EDP and Evening News are the only daily newspapers in England to have increased sales in recent times. Both have won a string of prestigious awards. The various weekly newspapers are also out performing most similar titles in other parts of the country. The online audience is growing by the day.
A few recent examples of the good work regional newspapers can do include the EDP’s campaigns to save RAF Marham, applying pressure for the A11 to be dualled and fighting for better broadband to bring inward investment to the county.
But it’s not just about the big campaigns, it’s also about the little things. If you’re setting up a new business, the chances are you want to advertise it in the papers and you may well benefit from editorial coverage as well. If public bodies are making cuts (aren’t they all?)
who’s going to tell you about it and who’s going to give you a voice to shout about it? Who’s going to tell you about crime, both major and minor, on your doorstep? Who’s going to tell you about events in your neighbourhood? Who’s going to highlight the ordinary people who do extraordinary things to help charities and the community? Who’s going to tell you the quirky little stories that make you smile over your cornflakes?
If you don’t believe all of this, that’s fine. If the people don’t value regional newspapers then it’s a losing battle and the remaining journalists may as well pack up and go home. But if any of this hits home with you then let there be no doubt: the newspapers that you care about will be poorer as a result of these changes. It is no overstatement to say we are fighting for their future.
So what can you do? It would be a big help if readers emailed or wrote to management, telling them why they value the newspapers and asking them to think twice about these proposals. I won’t tell you what to say – it will have more impact in your own words.
You can email:
Chief Executive firstname.lastname@example.org
Archant Norfolk Managing Director email@example.com
Editorial Director firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to them individually at:
Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.
It would be great if you copied your email into the comments here – it might help and inspire others. Thanks.