SOMEBODY a lot smarter than me once said: “If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room”.
And that's the way most of us would like to think of our bosses. We want them to be smarter than us. We want them to know exactly what they're doing. We want them to be very good at their jobs and we want them to make our businesses profitable and successful. Most importantly, we want them to have a long-term plan to sustain that success and keep us in a job and earning decent money for as many years as possible.
What we don't want is some blundering idiot who knows little or nothing about our trade waltzing into the boardroom with a fatally-flawed master plan that lays waste our newspapers, destroys our relationship with readers and advertisers, leaves hundreds, if not thousands, of hard-working dedicated staff out of work while dispensing with centuries of collective expertise, imagination, drive and dedication.
We want to have confidence in our bosses. We want to come to work in the morning without having spent a sleepless night worrying that our jobs have disappeared with the uncaring click of a computer mouse. And we don't want very missive from head office to be greeted with a silent newsroom chorus of “You don't know what you're doing”.
AT JOHNSTON Press, aka the Group of Death, a whizzo scheme to turn a newspaper company into an all-singing, all-dancing new media empire – in simple terms, turning the Mansfield Chad into Mumsnet – has had to be put on hold because it's… err.. basically bollocks. Editors who have lost staff, offices and editions and are left desperately shoe-horning crap press releases into predetermined templates are now being asked to come up with “content improvement plans”. It's enough to make a cat laugh.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield might be suffering the temporary embarrassment of failure but, hey, it's not the end of the world. If it all goes tits up, there'll soon be another top job coming along, another golden handshake, another roomful of tieless twats ready to implement the 'vision'.
For those poor bastards left behind, the casualties in the gutter, things aren't quite so simple. Not for them a 'temporary embarrassment' followed by a nice new job. For them, mortgages, marriages and even lives are at stake. The days of the big pay-offs have gone, with even long-serving editors departing with just a couple of months' salary and a briefcase full or purloined office stationery. It's not pleasant when the money runs out and little Tamsin and Timothy have to listen to Mummy and Daddy bitterly arguing over the last slice of Lidl pizza.
Finding gainful employment in a desolate market where every smart arse with a laptop thinks that they're a fucking journalist and, worse than that – is prepared to work for free just to see their name up in pixels – is no easy task. Other options are limited. Just how many freelance PR consultants can one county accommodate? And if you were one of those awkward bastards who always gave the local council a hard time, there'll be no cosy, publicly-funded press office sinecure for you, pal.
I have no idea what the future holds for Mr Highfield. I have no idea how long the patience of shareholders will last when they've already seen their holdings plummet to the point that a JP share is now worth almost the same as a penny chew. (I've done my research on this. A box of 45 Black Jacks now costs £2.30.)
And we could all be completely wrong about this. Mr Highfield's vision could turn out to be the Holy Grail that brings our media businesses back from the dead. But then again, the frightening thought looms that we dinosaurs might be the smartest people in the room after all.