David Montgomery: We need to get rid of editors-in-chief

Mecom chief executive David Montgomery wants to do away with newspapers’ editors-in-chief as part a drive to redefine his titles for publishing in a digital world.

Having previously called for the death of the sub-editor Montgomery told the Association of Online Publishers summit, in London yesterday, that he’d now set his sights higher up the food chain as part of a newsroom revolution to help claim back revenue lost.

Montgomery told delegates his European newspaper group expects to see a €200m drop in advertising revenue this year and that the traditional print media business model was now “economically bankrupt”.

The former Mirror Group executive said his 300 newspapers would see ad revenue fall by more than 20 per cent as they faced the “biggest advertising recession in histor”.

He said: “I would be fooling you; I’d be fooling our shareholders and staff, if I said we would get all that back. We will get some of it back but a lot of it will have to be replaced with new forms of revenue.”

Montgomery said his newspapers, which are scattered across Holland, Denmark, Poland and Norway, had it “too much our own way” and been slow to react to the threat of the internet.

He said: “People in our industry have now begun to think that this is our Stalingrad. That if we don’t start to defend ourselves, if we don’t start to do what we best, then we will inevitably lose market, lose audience and someone else will start to do content as well as we do it.”

Newspapers were no longer about the printing business, Montgomery added, but are content businesses that need to be leaner and to accelerate their online activities so they could be exploited commercially.

Mecom has put growing online ad revenue at the top of its agenda, he added, and would also look to develop revenue by bundling content to specific niche audiences.

The company’s Norwegian papers, which generate 18 per cent of their advertising revenue online, had started to divert editorial and commercial staff away from print to focus on digital products, he said.

Mecom raised more than £50m by selling some of its newspapers in Norway earlier this year as the company was beset by financial difficulties that led to further parts of the business being sold off to raise capital.

If all the other divisions of his newspaper empire drew as much revenue as Norway digitally, Montgomery said, Mecom would be able to add €50m to its bottom line.

Montgomery said changes to the Norwegian business were starting to challenge all the established working practises.

He said: “We are moving, or being forced to move in Norway, to a position where the originator of content, the gatherer of content, also publishes it both in print and online.

“The days of the position of editor-in-chief are numbered. A couple of years ago I said sub-editors were going to go out of business. But now I’m saying that editors-in-chief are going to go out of business.

“Of course you need those skills, but you need them now as part of a more commercial proposition.

“So I see very shortly that editors-in-chief will be replaced by content directors whose main job is to take content from many sources that would normally fill a newspaper and manage those resources into many different sorts of products.

“The job has to change, the roles have to change and the business has to become much more commercial.

“None of the demarcations that exist in newspapers exist online and the first thing we have to do to accelerate our online potential is to sweep away those traditional roles.”

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