Standing up for our friends

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 adrian.jeakings@archant.co.uk

 Archant Norfolk Managing Director johnny.hustler@archant.co.uk 

Editorial Director james.foster@archant.co.uk

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.

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13 Responses to Standing up for our friends

  1. Matt W says:

    My Email:

    Morning,

    I expect by now you will have all come across this: https://brayscottage.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/standing-up-for-our-friends/

    I hope I’m not the first or last person to email you in support of it. I am a former employee of Archant, in an advertising sales role, and as someone who continued to work in publishing I understand the financial pressure that the majority of publishers face, especially with the growth of free content on the internet. I see that, if not dealt with in some respect, this threatens the newspaper industry and the jobs of many journalists across the country, not just in Norfolk.

    But, much like local radio, local press is vital. No one wants syndication. You never ‘do more with less’ and to pretend that cutting staff will improve quality is disingenuous at best and outright misleading at worst. It is even more surprising coming from Archant when your costcutting measures have recently extended to changing the print time so that the Evening News comes out in the morning while your circulation numbers buck a trend and actually increase.

    I’m a Norwich City season ticket holder and I work in a local school; Sewell Park College. In fact, we were mentioned here: http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/news/green_schemes_are_put_before_dragons_1_850945. It was a moment of pride when I saw “Sewell Pupils pitch to dragons” on a news stand a couple of weeks ago. Two of the pupils in our team are in my form, and I know it was a moment of pride for them and their parents too. This is what local news is so good at; connecting us to our community, and increasing journalists workload by making them do jobs they aren’t trained for (such as layout) or focussing on quantity over quality by cutting numbers will only weaken, not strengthen, this link.

    I hope this email, and others, will cause some pause for thought. I hope you are able to reconsider this cut. I hope you want to put journalism ahead of cost cutting and the community ahead of the shareholders of a company that does make profit.

    Kind Regards,

    Matt Wallace

  2. Paul says:

    Great blog.

  3. Pingback: Interesting post on the @Brays_Cottage blog | Huw Sayer

  4. Pingback: Norfolk blogger supports Archant journalists facing job cuts | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

  5. Abc says:

    I’m confused by this blog. I believe in quality journalism. I believe in a vibrant regional press that speaks truth to power. I was also a journalist at Archant for a number of years but left in the mid-noughties (golden era of falling circulation). Hear me out, because I don’t think muddled thinking is the best way to argue a case.

    According to the blogger, “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.”

    The argument here seems to be that quality of staff has diminished since 2009 and so has the quality of the papers that we want to defend. Blimey, circulation must have suffered. They must be giving away the papers now…

    But, hold on, the blogger adds: “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.”

    Doesn’t that suggest that readers think the papers are better than in 2009 whatever journalists think? Also, haven’t prices gone up?

    I’m also glad to see a rise in Archant profits in 2010. Doesn’t take much of a memory to remember headlines in Press Gazette about profits falling by about one third in 2009: http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=45145. Look a few years earlier, and operating profit was measured in the £20m+ rather than the £8m in 2010. The last few years have been cruel and unusual times for the newspaper industry as a whole.

    Still with me? Okay, the blogger asserts: “Even if reporter numbers are maintained/increased, those reporters will be tied to their desks not out in the community.” The future will be the same as the past, apparently. That’s lazy argument. How can blogger say this with such certainty when mobile technology will no doubt have changed dramatically even in the year, two years, three or decade since he or she worked at Archant?

    I have no axe to grind. As I said, I want to see quality journalism and I’m first in line to defend the regional press. But the best journalism is critical, thoughtful, and insightful. You need more coherent argument if you’re going to win your case guys. Wishing you the best of luck. Oh, by the way, if you’re in East Anglia, you could always buy a copy of the EDP tomorrow…

  6. Nick Hart says:

    I’ve been a reporter, sub and page designer, both staff and freelance, for 40 years, and once worked on the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Evening star, sister papers to the Eastern Daily Press Norwich Evening News. Both great papers – then.
    Now they’re not. Better than average, maybe, but not great. There are no ‘great’ regional dailies – or weeklies – left. But there’s still great journalism – this blog, for instance – out there for anyone with an iPad.

  7. Nick Hart says:

    PS: Pork pies – ‘porkies’ – and journalism. Unfortunate conjunction…

  8. Journoliser says:

    @abc

    It is possible for the following to all be true at the same time i) rising circulation ii) poorer newspapers and iii) the company not ‘failing’.

    You say they must be practically giving the paper away, well they are. The price may have gone up but I’m sure, as a former journalist, you are familiar with the concept of bulk sales. For those who aren’t, this is a term used to refer to the number of papers sold at below the cover price or indeed given away for free – this is how circulation has risen, the rise is nothing to do with quality. This is the reason why, when it announced the circulation increase, Archant praised its “audience growth team” not journalists.

    So does this mean that, because the company is forced to give papers away, it is failing? Not really. Newspapers have never made money from the cover price, hence the decision of the Evening Standard to adopt a free model. They make money from advertising and advertisers hand over their money more readily to a paper with good sales.

    Yes the company used to make in the region of £20m compared to £8m last year – but in the current climate this is far better than other newspaper groups can expect (see Johnston Press which routinely posts a loss).

    Therefore the company has found a way of increasing sales which will in turn (they hope) increase advertising revenue in the long-term. Of course, if you are giving papers away, quality becomes less important to the company. But i) it remains important to readers and ii) if the paper is completely free, people will eventually stop reading it if it isn’t very good.

    You ask how the blogger can be sure reporters will be tied to their desks? Because they already are and they will increasingly be responsible for laying out the pages and subbing their own copy along with a whole host of other admin tasks which they will take on on behalf of others – they can’t simultaneously be doing this as well as being out in the community gathering stories, no matter how good mobile technology gets.

  9. journo says:

    It is true that circulation of the EDP and Norwich Evening News did go up slightly in the last batch of audited figures – but nobody in the industry believes this was due to more people actually paying over their hard earned money for the papers.

    The truth is that both papers – and the Archant-owned EADT and Evening Star in Suffolk – can be picked up for free in vast quantities at every branch of McDonald’s in the area to boost circulation. There are also lots of other wheezes for supermarket shoppers and the like to pick up free or cheap copies.

    If you strip out these freebies, you will see there has been a real fall in paid-for circulation.

    The redundancies proposed for the Norfolk titles have already largely been inflicted on Archant’s Suffolk papers. It has led to a big gulf between the quality of the EADT and the EDP. Now, it seems that the bean counters in Norwich have seen that a paper of sorts can be be brought out with far less resources by their colleagues down the A140 – and theyhave decided to sacrifice some of their quality feature writing, photography and sub-editing checks to achieve the same.

  10. Abc says:

    @journaliser

    Morning,

    I agree that bulk sales played a part – as, indeed, they’ve always played a part in any newspaper business. But I don’t think this is all of the story. Talking to former colleagues, my understanding is there was a major canvassing effort last year – a big push to attract subscribers rather than just rely on casual sales. As you’ll know, the model in other European countries is the flip of the UK – the majority of sales being subscription, the minority casual sale. It’s a truism in business that keeping a customer is cheaper and easier than attracting new ones, which is why the subscription model is more attractive than just competing every day on the newstand. But to retain customers, you have to demonstrate they are subscribing to quality. I don’t have figures to pass on, I’m afraid (I wish I did), but I understand that this is why the audience growth team was singled out.

    You mention the ES. I don’t think this is particularly relevant to the Norfolk titles. The ES as a paid-for paper became was unviable when you had the Metro being handed out free at every Tube station entrance each morning. The London market is more complex demographically and in terms of the number of news providers. There’s a healthy market, for example, in non-English language news papers, for example. I don’t think this gives any real insight to the Norfolk position.

    It’s also not true to dismiss paid circulation as irrelevant. It’s been an important component of the newspaper business model for many year, albeit a smaller contribution than ad revenue (70:30 in favour of ads?). If cover price was irrelevant, why do prices go up?

    Finally, you agree with Blogger that the future will be the same as the past:

    “You ask how the blogger can be sure reporters will be tied to their desks? Because they already are and they will increasingly be responsible for laying out the pages and subbing their own copy along with a whole host of other admin tasks which they will take on on behalf of others – they can’t simultaneously be doing this as well as being out in the community gathering stories, no matter how good mobile technology gets.”

    Again, I’ve spoken to former colleagues involved in the redundancy consultation and at risk of losing their jobs. My understanding is that traditional subbing is going to be split into its component parts. Laying out pages will be done by technicians. “Finishing pages” – as it’s being described – copy and headline checks, will be done by subs. No one I’ve spoken to has suggested that reporters will lay-out pages. They will be asked to write into shapes – so write to a prescribed length – but that’s not drawing boxes on pages or manipulating shapes. Given the right kit, you don’t need to be at your desk to connect to content management systems or write into shapes.

    As I said, I hope jobs can be saved. I know plenty of people in Norfolk who are rightly concerned. But the argument is still in the realms of sweeping generalisation – some of it plain wrong or misleading – rather than hard fact and evidence. That’s the way to win a case. Good luck.

  11. Pingback: East newspaper journalists face job cuts when most needed

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