Research fellow at Cardiff University Andy Williams has produced a devastating critique of Trinity Mirror’s management of its Welsh newspaper titles.
Devastatingly brilliant of you’re a shareholder…but just devastating if you’re a journalist.
Profits at the division, which includes the Western Mail and North Wales Daily Post, have soared over the last decade to £18.9m on turnover of £52m in 2008, Williams reports.
At the same time costs have been cut and cut with the result that 300 out of 700 editorial jobs have gone over the course of a decade.
“Media Wales alone has experienced five rounds of job cuts since 2003, delayed- and non-replacement of staff who leave is endemic, and journalists’ pay is extremely low.”
“Reporters are finding it increasingly hard to do basic tasks such as get out on their ‘patch’, make themselves known, cultivate contacts, and gather the news. Instead they are desk-bound, passive, and reliant on resource-rich news sources with efficient public relations teams willing to feed them press releases which can easily be “re-nosed” into shallow and inoffensive news stories.”
And he concludes:
“…as long as proprietors value the pocketbooks of shareholders above the quality of the news and the welfare of audiences and staff, the Welsh public sphere is likely to be further diminished.”
If you look at the performance of independently owned newspapers like the Press and Journal in Aberdeen, and the Express and Star in Wolverhampton, and compare them to titles owned by the likes of Trinity Mirror and Johnston Press – it’s difficult not to conclude that the shareholder model of capitalism is deeply flawed when it comes to regional press ownership.
Private owners would rather take 10 per cent a year for 30 years, reinvesting in the long-term health of the business. Trinity Mirror is, it appears, more interested in short-term profits.
Looking at chief executive Sly Bailey’s annual bonus – it was £671,000 last year – , she only has to hit her profit targets for a few years to retire a rich lady.
UPDATE: 9am, 21 July, Western Mail editor Alan Edmunds has issued a strongly worded response to the Willams study.
He said: “We will be taking this up in very strong terms with Cardiff University to tell them that, in our view, this is another example from them of one-eyed, inadequately-researched hyperbole full of ill-informed statements, old chestnuts, tired cliches and 1970s rhetoric.
“It is almost identical in tone and line to an equally out-of-touch and quaint view published by the same research department a few years ago and shows an astonishing lack of understanding of how we have had to change and modernise to meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers.”