Morse: Lost generation of regional editors 'crying shame'

  • Murray Morse: ‘hugely talented’ generation of editors has been lost
  • Newspaper groups determined to combine roles of editor and managing director
  • More dailies to become weeklies, predicts Irish Post editor

Budget cuts and a determination to combine the roles of editor and managing director have led to a ‘hugely talented’generation of regional editors being lost to the industry, according to Irish Post editor Murray Morse.

Morse is one of the most experienced figures in the British press having held senior editorial roles on papers in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This includes stints as news editor at the Edinburgh Evening News and Belfast Telegraph, assistant news editor at The Sun and assistant editor South Wales Record and Daily editor.

In an exclusive interview in the April edition of Press Gazette, Morse said: ‘Looking at the number of editors that have left newspapers in just the last year and the number of newspapers that have closed down, it’s a crying shame. I think you will see more titles that are currently daily become weeklies.”

It was a prediction made just days before Johnston Press announce it was converting five of its dailies into weeklies including the Halifax Courier and Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

Morse reeled off a list of names of editors he had worked with or knows well who have left journalism in the last year: Paul Robertson at the Newcastle Chronicle, Gerry Keighley at the South Wales Argus and Neal Butterworth at the Bournemouth Echo.

Departures at Northcliffe alone include Western Morning News editor Alan Qualtrough, the editor-in-chief of Northcliffe Media subsidiary Cornwall and Devon Media Andy Cooper, Nottingham Post editor Malcolm Pheby, Lincolnshire Echo’s Jon Grubb, Leicester Mercury’s Keith Perch, John Meehan from the Hull Daily Mail, Mark Astley from the Exeter Express & Echo and, most recently, Bath Chronicle editor Sam Holliday.

‘These are all hugely talented people, hugely experienced people that effectively are being lost to the industry,’said Morse.

‘Battle with the beancounters’

He puts the exits down to the fact that regional newspaper groups seem to be determined to combine the roles of editor and managing director and the fact that editors have seen their budgets ‘chopped from under them’over the last five years.

‘It’s already a tough job but when you’ve got no staff, a lot of the joy can go out of editing a newspaper. I think that some editors have decided that the job has changed so much that they wanted to get out before they were driven insane by constantly having to battle with the beancounters,’said Morse.

Looking at the cost-cutting which has gone on in the regional press, he added: ‘You get to a point where they have pruned so much there isn’t anything left to cut, but they can still go back [to shareholders] and say we’ve maintained our profits.

‘You can keep your profits up but are you just cutting the products to ribbons? An awful lot of daily regional titles are producing 32-page papers that are costing 50p and sometimes more.

‘You see people going into the shop, picking up the paper, seeing how thin it is and putting it down again, because they don’t think they are getting value for money.’

Morse said he seen the job of editor change from being purely in charge of content to involving many other aspects of the business.

Cambridge News and Sport Newspapers

‘The job has changed to the point where we have to have one eye on the opportunity to bring in advertising and sponsorship of pages. You’d have to be a very brave editor to turn away a full page just because it spoils the look of your paper,” he said.

‘I remember editors chucking ads out of the paper left, right and centre because they wanted to get more content in. Editors now are more involved in all other sides of the business like marketing, PR and HR issues because there are fewer and fewer execs doing the same amount of work.”

After an award-winning stint editing the Cambridge News from 2004 to 2008 Morse became editor in chief of Sport Newspapers.

After being made redundant from that job last July, he’s back on the frontline – out of the world of media consultancy – after being chosen to edit the reborn Irish Post, the weekly newspaper for the Irish community in Britain.

The Post went bust in August last year only to be relaunched 10 weeks later when it was bought by Irish businessman Elgin Loane, who also owns Loot.

Being at a paper which has plans to grow has been, Morse said, a refreshing change. He revealed that at the Cambridge Evening News, plans by the owners to cut more journalists’ jobs were a big part of his reason to leave.

‘They wanted to restructure and to focus more on the free weekly papers and they also wanted to cut more staff. We’d just won an awful lot of awards and I felt I wasn’t going to be able to produce the same highcalibre newspaper with even fewer staff. I felt it was time to take a bit of a break and do something different.”

The full interview with Morse is only available in this month’s edition of Press Gazette. Click here to subscribe to Press Gazette

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7936 6433 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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