Regional press cuts savage but not the end of the world

Jon Slattery paints a grim picture of life today in the regional press in today’s Media Guardian cover story.

More than 900 regional press journalists made redundant since July, an industry “being butchered by some international newspaper conglomorates” as one ex-editor puts it and journalists losing their jobs wondering “where the hell do we go from here?”.

We live in tough times indeed. And it is particularly galling that these jobs cuts in the regions come despite the fact that supposedly hard-hit companies like Johnston Press are still making big profits (albeit dramatically lower ones than last year).

Johnston’s profits of £128.4m (a margin of 24.1 per cent) would be considered very healthy by most businesses in the current climate.

But despite the job cuts and the downsizing, this is not the end of life in the regional press.

If you doubled the NUJ estimate of 900 editorial redundancies, to include non-replacement, if as many as 2,000 journalists had gone in the regional press – that would make up perhaps as many as 20 per cent of the editorial workforce. A savage reduction – but not an apocalyptic one – and probably comparable to cutbacks experienced in many other industries hit by the current recession.

Journalists made redundant fear for their futures. One tells Slattery: “There’s simply nothing out there.”

But although the job market may be tough at present, I’d argue that most journalists will probably find themselves much better paid jobs in the long term.

The skills they have learned in the newsroom – negotiation, writing, management, interviewing, organisation – will equip them well for all sorts of new career opportunities, if they decide to leave the profession. The senior ranks of politics, PR, academia and many other industries are filled with ex-journalists.

As to where do we go from here?

These cutbacks come at a time when technology has made the cost of becoming a publisher cheaper than ever before – online and in print.

The big publishers are retreating from the communities their newspapers have served, often for more than a century. But people still need news, they still need to buy and sell things – and in an increasingly fragmented world there will be more value than ever placed on media which can deliver big audiences (or small audiences which represent a large proportion of a community).

The current stock market model of local newspaper ownership may well be failing – as companies eat themselves in order to satisfy short-term profit targets.

This could provide an opportunity for more locally owned and managed regional media to emerge.

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