Trinity Mirror's Sly Bailey warns of pain ahead for publishers

Trinity Mirror‘s chief executive Sly Bailey expects there to be media casualties of the economic slump and said publishers that do not fully embrace online will fail.

Speaking at the Association of Online Publishers Digital Publishers’ Summit in London, she also said she did not expect the company’s digital revenues to overtake its print revenues for at least three years.

Bailey also had strong words for those who write off newspapers and reasserted her commitment to printed news for the long-term future

Asked by Press Gazette whether there would be further job cuts across the group as it moves to multi-platform publishing, she said the company would “minimize redundancies where we can” and seek ways to avoid compulsory cuts but admitted there “would be pain” for staff. She said Trinity would be hiring 100 extra staff across the group with modern journalism skills.

“There is a fundamental transformation that is happening across our industry,” she said. “It is imperative that traditional media understand that digital media is critical to their businesses. As media continues to fragment, our businesses will only grow with digital media at the centre.”

She continued: “But that is not to say that newspapers have had their day. There has been a lot of pessimistic talk suggesting that the days of newspapers are numbered and it’s only a matter of time before newspapers are replaced. But the digital revolution does not mean the end of the newspaper.”

Bailey acknowledged that the economic slump in recent months “is affecting digital growth” and said that the market was widely expected “to be far worse in 2009”. It is an environment in which “only the strong will survive”, she said.

She said Trinity’s business model was not just based on attracting large amounts of unique users to its national websites and more than 100 regional “companion sites”.

She said: “Attracting millions of unique users to your digital brands is great. But if businesses can’t convert those users to revenue and then to sustainable profit then they will simply run of cash. This is no time for vanity publishing.

“Digital businesses can no longer rely simply on a rising tide of growth,” she said. “The latest market figures show that the downturn in the economy is now affecting digital media, with growth rates in internet advertising revenue falling in 2008 and the market expected to be more challenging in 2009 and as we’ve seen even Google is not immune.”

Bailey was bullish about the need for change in Trinity’s regional newspapers, such as the Birmingham Post and Mail which are undergoing a multimillion pound revamp involving radically different working patterns, abandoning the traditional “five step” process of publishing: reporter, to newsdesk, to designer, to revise to publish.

Around 65 jobs are to be cut through voluntary redundancies and industrial action was only narrowly avoided this week after the National Union of Journalists called off a two-day strike.

And she said that journalists’ jobs are set to become more interesting at Birmingham where they are to start using smartphones to shoot video as part of their reporting.

“I think that’s far more creative than simply writing 500 words for the next day’s paper,” she said.

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