Grim news from owners of the Lichfield Mercury

The Lichfield Mercury

The Lichfield Mercury

The regional newspaper industry has been hit hard over recent years, with advertising on the slide and cuts being made left, right and centre.

And now the Daily Mail and General Trust have announced that they expect around 1,000 people to leave the company over the next 12 months at their regional arm Northcliffe. That’s double the number predicted back in November last year, although they have claimed that many of that number have already left the company.

As Northcliffe own the Lichfield Mercury series, we can only hope that this news doesn’t impact too heavily on a newspaper which has managed to keep producing a decent product despite the turbulent market conditions.

Given that the Mercury has the still-lucrative property advertising market sewn up in Lichfield, it would surely be self-defeating for them to drive the editorial quality of the product down and jeopardise this position. But as a former regional journalist, common sense rarely seems to have any bearing on the thought process when it comes to this sort of news.

The usual line that’s trotted out whenever newspapers make cutbacks in staff is that businesses are being streamlined to meet the demands of a new digital media world. But regardless of what processes you put in place, newspapers still need news – and the only way to get the good stuff is to put bodies on the ground.

The last thing Lichfield needs is for the Mercury to become nothing but a press release re-hashing factory like so many other regional newspapers have.

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Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

11 Comments

  1. Stuart Harrison

    23rd March, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Couldn’t agree more. Even though a work for a local authority, I think we need to be kept on our toes by the local media. No accountability = bad for everyone.

  2. Sammy J

    23rd March, 2009 at 11:43 am

    We’ll be keeping everyone on their toes where possible whatever happens!!!

    In all seriousness though, a strong local media is a very good thing. I was fortunate enough to work in Lichfield when the Star, The Post and the Mercury all had very strong presences in the city centre. You might see an office now, but you won’t see many journalists you can just pop in and see with your troubles and stories.

  3. GrovesMedia

    23rd March, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Like so many other journalists I have many good memories of time spent working on a local paper. It was a fantastic training ground for young journalists and the paper played a very big and influential role in the local community.

    But that was 20 years ago and sad to say the industry as a whole hasn’t moved on quickly enough – or far enough – over the last two decades.

    The shameful lack of investment by the various owners and their failure to take new technology seriously has now come back to bite them hard. They have sat back and watched while new media formats have become established and are now frantically trying to play catch up when they are so far behind the game.
    Some are working very hard and and proving successful at innovating new ways of working (some Midlands titles, for example).
    But it must also be said that everyone within these organisations needs to take responsibiity – there are still too many experienced journalists running scared of what is happening online.

    That is why you get situations were the traditional media outlets finally cover a story 48 hours or more after it has already been doing the rounds on blogs and other social media sites. By the time these outlets carry the story it is “old” news and more often than not both it and the readers have moved on.

    These job cuts do not come as a surprise, although it is still shocking to see a industry being regularly decimated – it might be interesting to see how the media industry as a whole compares to other industries in terms of the number of jobs lost in the last 5 years.

    The newspaper industry (from the smallest of local weekly titles to the biggest national players) needs a new business model. More people are waking up to that fact.

    Alas, it doesn’t always appear that one of the industry’s biggest assets – skilled, experienced and enthusiatic journalists – are included in that plan.

    I’m not ready to write an obit for the newspaper industry yet, as I still see it could have a future. But the times have changed and the industry in general has not kept pace.

  4. Sammy J

    23rd March, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    GrovesMedia putting it far better than I ever would have done, once again!

    As I wrote over on Philip John’s site, the pain will come when the advertisers get wise. In the meantime we have the situation where we broke a story on the Saturday evening and no local media broke the same news until 10am this morning. I even linked all the info so it was simple for others to follow our lead, but because they don’t have the manpower to staff outside of obvious hours, the websites are not updated regularly.

  5. GrovesMedia

    23rd March, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Sammy J: Too kind. But surely in this day and age “new ways of working” should stretch beyond 9-5 Monday to Friday?

    I would class us both as news junkies and you will know it doesn’t take a lot to get the information you need to provide news quickly and accurately, whatever time or whatever day it happens.

    Journalists don’t have to be chained to their desks – they never should be. With a cheap laptop and mobile it should be possible for them to update a newspaper’s website from home or wherever they are within minutes of getting wind of a story.
    But there are still far too many cultural barriers and outdated attitudes to such alternative ways of covering a story.

    The advertising issue will be key. You cite propery ads still being strong locally, for example, but with websites like rightmove growing by the day newspapers cannot rely on such cash cows. It is the same with recruitment and cars ads. They still haven’t learned these fairly basic lessons.

  6. GrovesMedia

    23rd March, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    There has been a lot of buzz about Clay Shirky’s thoughts on newspapers. Not sure it does the business, but it is certainly worth a few minutes of your time if you are interested in this kind of thing – http://tinyurl.com/bpxulr

  7. Phil

    23rd March, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    I think the key is for newspapers to be enterprising. Developments like Amazon’s Kindle should be prompting the owners to say, “hey, look, here’s another way we can distribute our newspaper”. I don’t they’re doing enough of that at the moment. Essentially it’s the old ‘moving with the times’ adage.

  8. Sammy J

    23rd March, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    I think part of the problem is that no-one is able to define where the times are moving to. Because of that, businesses who are used to a defined approach are worried about throwing all of their eggs into one basket. At least their shareholders are anyway!

  9. Mrs Woffington

    23rd March, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Speaking as a newspaper journalist, I read these arguments with interest. The trouble is, newspaper bosses aren’t interested in developing journalists. They expect print journalists to tranform themselves into new media specialists on the strength of two days’ training, and the result is embarrassing. They have no interest or understanding of the integrity of the content, which, at the end of the day, is what’s driving the ad revenue. They think making the editor go on Twitter is going to take the place of a properly staffed, well-paid workforce that’s capable of writing well-researched news stories. Sadly, it isn’t.

  10. Sammy J

    24th March, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Given the lack of online news updates from the Merc, I can’t imagine they have much to cut back on.

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