The Grey Cardigan 14.09.06

IS IT really almost a year since the Boy Wonder, then our newly arrived schoolboy editor, stood hopping from leg to leg like an incontinent Labrador on a newsroom desk as he outlined his thrilling plans for our future?

Indeed it is. Today he decides to repeat the performance, albeit with a very different script. Times have changed and we've just posted the worst sales performance figure in Evening Beast history. We're talking double digits, plus a bit.

The problem the Boy Wonder has is that not a single initiative excitedly announced by him since that fateful day has been his own. He's been parroting management bollocks all along, and most of us know it.

A year ago, we had three editions — the first on sale from seven in the morning, the last off-stone at 1pm. We now have one, printed overnight on an industrial estate 70 miles away and distributed by wholesalers. A year ago, we had van drivers, unusually responsive to effective billing and spotting sell-outs, and a valuable source of local news tip-offs. Now we have none.

A year ago, we had district offices, staffed by a handful of people who actually knew their patch. Now we've even closed our city centre office in a bid to cut costs. The number of punters currently prepared to schlep their way out to our edge-of-town billet is, predictably, none. Apart from the loonies, stalkers and the God-botherers, anyway.

A year ago, we had a newspaper broadly representative of our readership. Now, on the advice of the red-socked twats, we've dropped diamond weddings and exorcised anyone under the age of 35 from our pages. Given that the average Evening Beast reader is a 55-year-old female, this isn't really a good move.

A year ago, we had a Saturday night sports paper. It was fun — if expensive — to do, and it sold anywhere between 5,000 and 14,000 copies, depending on the performance of our woeful football clubs.

But it did break even… almost. At worst, it might have cost us £20k a year, a pittance in the grand scale of things. And, more than that, it was a sign of commitment to our readership and to our community.

Needless to say, we don't have it any more.

A year ago, we had a reasonable number of pages, even on a Monday. Now we're down to a miserable 36 early in the week — roughly a penny a page. A year ago, we had a marketing budget, allowing us to respond to developing trends, sponsor some local events and maximise our point of sale impact. (Sorry, some management bollocks snuck in there.) Now we don't even have a contradealed box at our local racecourse, a source of serious embarrassment when major advertisers phone up for an invitation.

And finally, we had a pretty good staff — dedicated, knowledgeable, at one with the people they were serving. Now we have just enough people to get the paper out. The expensive, experienced, long-serving old-timers have gone. All 37 of them. We now get by on kids and Mac jockeys. And one or two of the Escape Committee.

But wait, the Boy Wonder is priapic. He rises to desktop and speaks. (He appears not to have noticed that his loyal deputy, the violent and malicious Brute, has absented himself from the proceedings.

Meanwhile, a management cipher, his grey suit a cloak of invisibility, shape-shifts like a half-formed hologram against the back wall.)

There is good news. The expectant faces of the gathered inexperienced youth tilt up towards him, the light of his misplaced optimism bathing their faces. Yes, we've had a tough time sales-wise, but…wait for it… readership is UP!

The masses cheer. The few old hands exchange eyeball cynicism.

A later, pub-based check of the figures reveals the truth. Yes, we might be down 14.2 per cent, but readership has risen from 2.6 readers per copy to 2.8.

It's deception by omission, but we can't exactly accuse the Boy Wonder of being inaccurate. Just of being a fucking liar. A fucking desperate liar.

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