No glass ceiling at Trinity

While there may be roughly equal numbers of men and women entering the newspaper world, far fewer females rise to the heady heights. This is true in editorial offices, but more so when you look at who actually runs the businesses.

MDs and chief execs of regional and national groups are nearly all men, so it was a thumbs-up to Trinity Mirror for appointing a woman to run its lucrative regionals arm.

Maybe it takes a woman to appoint and promote another woman, for new boss Georgina Crace was given the job by Sly Bailey. Since MD Stephen Parker left the group in the summer, the male regional MDs have been reporting directly to Bailey. For many it will have been the first time their boss was female. Hopefully they have used this time to get used to the gender differences as Crace and Bailey are similar creatures, at least on paper.

Crace arrives from Bailey’s previous company IPC where she was MD of IPC Advertising.

The similarities continue; she has worked in the national press (but not regional) and has a strong track record in magazines. The two are of a similar age and even bear a passing resemblance to each other.

Bailey is forthright in her primary reason for appointing Crace: “The key value lever in our regional business is advertising and we are delighted to have someone of Georgina’s calibre to join our team to help drive an even greater performance from these assets.”

AmI alone in imagining the regional bosses and their teams wincing as they read that quote? They may not be very experienced at reporting to a woman, but they have great track records of delivering shed loads of money.

The return on sales figures for most of the businesses, particularly in the north, are astonishingly good – although still trailing arch-rival Johnston Press.

But it may well be circulation which tops Crace’s in-tray when she arrives at Canary Wharf. TM’s daily papers, in common with other metropolitan biggies, are finding it tough going.

Crace’s time as a director of the National Readership Survey and a committee member of ABC may well be even more applicable than her advertising track record.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has had a busy few months preparing for the main part of the Freedom of Information legislation to come into force on 1 January.

Part of that role has been touring the country and explaining its finer points to editors in England and Scotland.

Most newspapers have shown a woeful lack of interest in using the access to information legislation which already exists, but the signs are more encouraging with FoI.

Already several papers are ferreting away requests, and there is almost a race on to see who will be the first to challenge a ruling or expose an authority that does not adhere to the timeframe.

One can only imagine that the Information Commissioner’s own website must be getting some fairly heavy hits as hacks, authorities and members of the public try to understand the legislation.

So with just a few weeks to go, and as someone who trains on the impact of FoI, it is slightly disconcerting to hit the “contact us” button on the website.

After a long list of regional offices’ contact details there is a section headed “Current response times and answering your enquiries” which has been there for at least a couple of months now.

I quote: “Unfortunately we currently have significant backlogs caused partly by staff turnover and partly by testing and training associated with the introduction of a new IT system to support our casework.

Although we will make every effort to respond to enquiries in a reasonable time, it may well be that a substantive response is not possible for several weeks, and in some cases for a longer period.”

Several weeks! Longer period! FoI comes into force on 1 January, and this is not a date which can have taken them by surprise.

What are we to make of this?

? What’s the issue with staff turnover?

? Would it not have been sensible to have a new IT system up and running well before now?

? Is this not the time when most people may well have complicated issues to get their heads around?

? How much confidence does it give us in the Information Commissioner and his office being able to cope at the turn of the year?

I would put all these questions to them – but I’m not sure when I will get a reply.

As I was idly flicking through my home-delivered copy of the Sunday Mirror ‘s Celebs on Sunday , I turned to their TV pages and perused their “Best on the Box” feature to plan my weekly viewing.

They pick three programmes from 24 hours of viewing on the 19 different channels they list, so this is always going to be subjective. But I suspect I am part of the target market and the writing is always sharp.

I was surprised by Tuesday’s final choice of the Butler & Wilson Mini Series on QVC. I did not know what that was, even after reading the description, but it appeared to be something to do with jewellery. I carried on. But wait, on Thursday the mag was recommending Mojave Magic Cosmetics , also on QVC.

It seemed strange that the Sunday Mirror had picked a channel, which must have a small market share, twice and recommended some fairly obscure programmes.

I began to smell a rat. Not only were the two programmes the only ones in the entire section to have a nice pastel background they were the only non-terrestrial channels to be featured.

They also had helpful wording at the bottom telling you how to access the channel.

Uninformative: The Information Commissioner’s website

Apart from the fact the accompanying words read like ad copy, the final clue was in a small earpiece on the top of the page for QVC.

As hacks are always accused of being too cynical I put it down to a one-off coincidence, until the mag duly arrived the following week.

Nothing if not consistent, QVC programmes were highlighted in the same shade on the same pages for the same nights. I could go on about why the Sunday Mirror has chosen QVC to be one of just 14 cable channels they list -but it’s obvious and too depressing.

Getting advertising into TV listings is perfectly acceptable – but deliberately choosing that advertisers’ channel to come under the “Best on the Box” editorial category left this reader feeling cheated.

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer, and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle.

Next week: Chris Shaw

by Alison Hastings

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