Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Fit To Print?

The Trinity Mirror publishing company has acquired a package of 32 regional newspapers from Guardian Media Group - including the Surrey & Berkshire Newpapers stable of Reading Post, Wokingham Times and Bracknell Forest Standard.

Sly Bailey, Trinity Mirror's CEO, explained the deal was "a perfect strategic fit" for the group which is hoping to create a regional multi-media network 'of real scale'.

However Independent councillor Tony Jones commented that although he hopes it is a new opportunity for the local titles, the current environment of contraction may mean further upheaval for "this once integral voice in the life of the town."

Cllr Jones expresses concern that the recent reduction to a bi-weekly will be followed up by moves to make the paper a weekly freesheet as increasing choice and diversity in the means to access news has meant "people have just got out of the habit of buying a newspaper."

The Unison representative also highlights the sweetheart deal given to Trinity Mirror (which formerly owned the Reading Chronicle title) - he notes that the £7.4million cash downpayment includes a contract-release clause despite counting gross assets of £8.7 million on the balance sheet - which makes it a potentially juicy target for asset-stripping.

The deal was part of a £44.8m package headlined by the sale of the Manchester Evening News, which has been at the heart of the Guardian's operations and media platform for 85 years, or as Dominic Ponsford puts it, a case of 'jettisoning the regionals to save the mothership.'

GMG CEO Carolyn McCall explained that the sale was necessary to "secure the future of The Guardian inperpetuity."

FT's excellently named Salamander Davoudi rounds up a selection of analysis from the city, picking out the low sale price. This indicates market consolidation is increasingly likely as TM ups its share of the regional news market from 19-23% - although as Oliver Luft describes, this raises plurality issues.

David Prosser picks out GMG's contrary view, which is gambling Rupert Murdoch is wrong that paid-for online content is the way forward. And how often has that occurred?

Meanwhile Bracknell Blog's Dazmando provides a well-informed discussion of the issue of paid-content. He identifies divergent trends where the the evolving technology creates new opportunities at both ends of the market.

Where consolidation is the name of the game at the high-end and fixed costs are high, this is contrasted at the grassroots where costs are low and new news media are reporting different types of stories in innovative ways - so perhaps independent news reporters can 'address the balance'.

Mark Reckons takes himself along to a 'sceptics in the pub' meeting in Westminster to participate in a discussion suggesting blogs have the potential to replace newspapers, titled "What difference does political blogging really make?"

Among the high-ranking bloggerati present and giving their views were Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes, Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy, Jonathan Isaby of Conservative Home, Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole together with The Observer's Nick Cohen, as well as local blogger Rob Fisher. The event was chaired by Allen Green of the legal Jack of Kent blog.

Elsewhere Elizabeth Thomas points out how new media platforms opens up new avenues for individual intellectual curiosity as cynicism with stale industrialised news formats grows and people look for different ways of addressing issues.

She quotes former journalist Chris Anderson, who said, "There was a hole in the existing media diet."

He is enthused that all the 'brain-nuturing stuff' that has become 'squeezed-out' by sensationalised headlines, over-dramatised facts and 'celebrity tittle-tattle' is being replaced by discussion of ideas that gives a real sense of community engagement.


Update: Peter Kirwan has a graph which shows exactly where GMG's problems reside. He quotes insiders at Hold the Front Page (report; analysis) who think the takeover will mean drastic job cuts.

Jane Griffiths is not particularly concerned whether Reading Post is saved of not.


More stories about the local media environment


  1. I hope the new owners aren't acolytes of Rupert Murdoch and actively put their content in the cloud so that we can actually consume it.

  2. It's an interesting question.

    The economics usually trumps pure ideals, as the Guardian's adherence to universally free content shows - although that brings us into the territory of differentiating between fact and opinion.

    But then reality bites those who concentrate solely on the bottom line too, as even the FT has reached a compromise position for fear of losing casual bypassers from whom they hope to make converts.

    I suspect the answer will be some sort of mixed model developed through the integration of different media platforms, but that's still some way off yet.

  3. As if the Reading Post weren't bad enough already, now it's being transformed into a Home Counties version of the Mirror? A growing infotainment empire for those who don't care about reality.

    It's not all bad, I suppose: now it will at least earn its place in my compost bin.

  4. You might be being a little unfair, Matt. There has always been and will always need to be a community touchstone, but what it was was a reflection of the community itself.
    There has always been more to papers than just news and reports. Personal ads, announcements and lonely hearts traditionally found a home on local print media, but these revenues stream are drying up as they move to the faster online world - so what newspapers did to the parish noticeboard is now being done to them by the internet.


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