Stormy weather

This is an extract from the Grey Cardigan’s column in the January issue of Press Gazette. For subscription deals, see elsewhere on this website.

WELL, HELLO there 2009. And just what horrors do you hold in store for we poor hacks?

As I stand on the bridge of the Evening Beast, now rendered largely irrelevant by an overnight print slot and a single edition, there is only stormy weather ahead. Will I still be here a year hence? Will any of us? Will our newspapers?

But don’t worry, it’ll all be fine because the internet will be our salvation, won’t it? Err, not quite. Just as classified revenue bled from our pages, so the crunch has hit our appallingly clunky website. Those optimistic forecasts were fool’s gold. Advertisers remain unconvinced, and rightly so. While one might surf for breaking national news or particular niche interests, it’s unlikely that the local rag is going to be high up in people’s Bookmarks. There are town and village blogs and message boards that meet the need better than we do – mainly because they’re often libelous and occasionally malicious.

The network of community correspondents that I was tasked to recruit for the Electronic Beast has proven problematic. It’s a bit like putting together a focus group. The kind of people who thrust themselves forwards are the very people you don’t want. They’re either too opinionated or are single-issue nutters.

I made the mistake of signing up a bloke who was into pigeon racing. Every day I’d log on to our community page to find that the top headline was a cryptic message about the East Midland North Road Amalgamation liberation site being affected by westerly winds. But even that was preferable to the bitter old man who persecuted a poor councillor. I did warn our editor, dear Crystal Tits, about the wisdom of allowing amateurs ignorant of law or balance free access to our web site. In the end, the modest pay-out and apology was worth it after the lawyers insisted on a degree of moderation in future.

Our out-sourced relationship with Bhupendra from Bangalore and his mates isn’t going well. The ad department had asked them to design a cover for a Here Comes Spring supplement; you know, the kind of cheesy ad feature that lumps car dealers in with holistic healers just because it’s a cheap rate. I think they were a little disappointed when the cover came back featuring a large picture of … a spring – probably from a tractor.

Apart from that, ad reps are now spending so long chasing up corrections, arguing about credits with pissed-off customers and generally holding their heads in their hands that the call rate has fallen through the floor. So not only are they not selling, but they’re not getting paid for those ads they do manage to sell. A stunning success all round, I think.

OUR CHRISTMAS do was predictably dire. We’d taken the £6-a-head the company had granted us and took it off to a not-very-good Greek restaurant. And what is the one thing you know about Greek restaurants? Yep, you get to smash plates.

Now we men of the world know that they have special, earthenware ‘smashing’ plates, which are wheeled out after the actual meal. Unfortunately our two surviving trainees didn’t know this, and set about each other with the crockery the main course had been served on. This resulted in severe lacerations all round and a number of stitches having to be inserted at the Infirmary.

The only redeeming feature of the whole evening was the deputy sports editor being caught in flagrante with a secretary round the back of the restaurant … in a skip. Class, or what? Thank God for mobile phones, and that magical video capability which allows such indiscretions to be recorded for posterity.

SO, FAREWELL then Mike Glover, ousted by Cumbrian Newspapers and probably the last of the big regional names of the 80s and 90s to get the push. Jon Slattery, late of this parish, puts it rather well in his blog: ‘The faded starlet Norma Desmond famously remarks when someone comments that she used to be “big” in the movies: “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!” I remember regional editors who were big personalities like Barrie Williams, Geoff Elliott, Mike Lowe, Ian Dowell and Sean Dooley and who would fight tooth and nail for their newspapers. But in the last few years they have left, or been forced out of the industry ahead of the current meltdown. How convenient for the latest crop of newspaper managers.”

The point is, they fought for their newspapers, their communities and their staff, not for themselves. I’m not sure that Crystal Tits and Alistair, our current incumbents, will take on the beancounters with the same fervour when it’s their own farewell cheque that’s at risk.

You can contact me, should you be minded, at thegreycardigan@gmail.com

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