Leicester appears to be thriving at the moment.
Its football club has just won the Premier League for the first time in its history and the tourism economy has been cashing in on the reburial last year of King Richard III.
Sadly, this new buoyancy does not appear to have rubbed off on the city’s daily newspaper which is facing yet more editorial cutbacks under new owner Trinity Mirror.
I understand that ten years ago the Leicester Mercury had an editorial staff of over 130. I’m told that today that figure is in the region of 35.
The features team has for some time appeared to be the feather in the Mercury’s cap.
Its performance at the Regional Press Awards tells its own story. Leicester Mercury staff have won feature writer of the year in 2006 (Jeremy Clay), 2009, 2014 , 2015 and 2016 (Lee Marlow) and in 2011 and 2012 (Adam Wakelin). In 2013, More magazine (produced by the Mercury features department), won supplement of the year.
The team has also had a liberal smattering of “highly commendeds” in various awards over the same period.
You would think that Trinity Mirror would want to cherish such a centre of excellence.
But last week all five staff in the features team were told they were at risk of redundancy (including award-winners Clay and Marlow).
Instead it is proposed that two jobs – one full-time and one-part-time – are created writing What’s On content.
These new features positions look unlikely to have the same remit to produce “exceptional” and “powerful” journalism which was praised this year by the Regional Press Awards judges.
It would appear that in-depth features have less of a place in the newsroom of the future Trinity Mirror is hoping to create in Leicester.
Live-blogs are, however, on the up. Last week the Mecury live-blogged the wedding of Leicester footballer Jamie Vardy. Sister title the Nottingham Post recently live-blogged the opening of a KFC.
Trinity Mirror said in a statement last week: “The Leicester Mercury’s editorial operation has been reviewed in the light of the need to focus local editorial resources on creating and managing content which best serves our multimedia audience and at the same time to manage our costs efficiently in what remains a challenging economic environment.
“As a result it is proposed that the volume of features content published in print and online will be reduced. This would involve a reduction in features pagination. Some locally produced features pages would be replaced by content created for use across titles by the Trinity Mirror Shared Content Unit.”
In 2012, award-winning Mercury features writer Adam Wakelin wrote for Press Gazette about why he chose to take redundancy. He said he became disheartened after publisher and managing director David Simms put a Deal or No Deal-style red phone in the open-plan office where he would call ad reps and offer them cash incentives.
He said: “My faltering resolve to go was fortified when the publisher began handing out chocolate lollies to advertising staff while colleagues a few desks away were being summoned to pick up their compulsory redundancy notices.”
Days after news that the Mercury was proposing to disband its features team, Simms tweeted this picture (I am told he does not own the speedboat):
Of course nearly every local newspaper in the western world, not just the UK, is under huge pressure at the moment. All titles have had to make deep cuts over the last decade.
In the last ABCs the print sale of the Leicester Mercury fell 10.8 per cent year on year to 28,756 while daily average unique website browsers rose 31 per cent to 72,769. More new digital readers are arriving, than print ones are leaving, but – like nearly everyone else – the Mercury is struggling to find ways to make enough money online.
Trinity Mirror is by far the UK’s largest regional newspaper group with more than 235 titles. These truly must be sad days for the regional press if it can’t find a place in its empire for some of the most talented feature writers in the country?