David Montgomery, head of European newspaper giant Mecom, has attacked UK regional newspapers for the ‘appalling wages’they pay their journalists.
And he has advised them to raise pay if they want to successful make the transition to new ways of publishing in the multimedia age.
Former Mirror Group chief executive Montgomery was speaking at a German embassy reception for journalists on the George Weidenfeld Anglo German exchange programme.
His group currently owns hundreds of newspapers across Europe, with a combined turnover of £1.2bn.
Press Gazette asked Montgomery whether current shareholder-owned UK regional newspaper businesses had a long-term future, as they drove down costs to reach 30 per cent profit margins.
Montgomery said: ‘We pay twice as much in salary to journalists in Europe as certain organisations pay in the UK regional newspaper market.
‘That’s a rather chilling fact. I think the pay rates in regional newspapers in the UK are appalling. That affects quality far more than the numbers of people being employed.
‘If you are going to complete this transformation successfullyâ€¦ you are going to have to pay them properly.”
Journalists on UK regional newspapers typically earn between £15,000 and £25,000 a year.
Montgomery, former editor of Today and the News of the World, was generally upbeat about the future of newspapers.
He said: ‘If I had to choose I would be coming into journalism today rather than 30 years ago. The excitement you have ahead of you is something you can’t imagine. Life is going to change out of recognition in terms of how we operate newspapers.”
He said journalists need to learn to be more commercially minded, adding: ‘All of us are in the selling business and we have a lot of competition out there.”
He spoke of a ‘revolution’which is happening in his company’s newsrooms.
‘Every newsroom becomes a content department, every journalist serves print and online.
‘In some cases we are moving the advertising department to go next to the content department.”
He said four out of five of Mecom’s chief executives will soon be former journalists or editors. He said this was core to ensuring that they are ‘creative publishing businesses”.
He said: ‘Everyone needs to be creative and innovative and determined to try new things. Some of the papers we have bought had a managerial culture rather than a publishing culture. Business school lessons were more important than content or creativity –â€‚we are stripping out layers of management.”
Despite being a former sub-editor himself – he questioned whether subs are as necessary now as they once were.
‘Never before has a journalist been able to reach out to their audience without intervention.
‘Reporters out in the field can call up a page on their laptop and put copy straight onto the page without intervention.”
He added: ‘It means journalists can be freed from humdrum roles and the sub-editing culture can break down.”
He said that at Mecom that ‘resistance is breaking down’to this ‘new way of working”.
He said: ‘I see a situation where experienced journalists that can be trusted have no barrier to communication with their audience.
‘Sub-editing is a twilight world, checking things you don’t really need to check. Senior people will always monitor the content, a core group will create the product.”
But he added that individual journalists need to have ‘more discretion over what can be published”.
He said: ‘I come from a world where editor-in-chiefs are control freaks who want to control every word. We’ve got to let that go.”