Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Accusations and acquisitions.

It was reported today that as of 28/03/2010, Trinity Mirror plc will have completed the purchase of Guardian Media Group Regional Media, the company in charge of a huge swathe of newspapers and online 'products', as which I believe we're supposed to refer to websites as now, including flagship north-western daily the Manchester Evening News - a paper launched by the Guardian group in 1821. 'Fair enough', you might say, but you're not me, and I don't say fair enough. This will get a bit long, so grab a cuppa.

Apparently, GMG Regional has been making next to no pennies* for the 12 months December '08 to '09, so the guardian (no pun intended) angel of Midlands local media, Trinity Mirror plc, has swooped down and very charitably offered to 'release GMG from their long-term printing contract'. Aaw, how sweet. According to the figures (see below for all useful links) the MEN has been somewhat carrying GMG Regional for a little while, but staff have already relocated to different premises thanks to centralisation which has been happening across the board for around two years now.
Meanwhile, Guardian Media and News has been offering voluntary redundancies for several weeks now, and is reportedly making a daily loss of an estimated £100,000. This all sounds a little familiar to me, although it clearly doesn't to Sly Bailey.

Let me tell you a story. It's pretty long, but that doesn't mean you can get away without reading it all. I'll only pin you down and read it to you and do that thing to your eyes until Beethoven makes you sick and...oh, wait...

Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away - on this very bus route, no less - I used to work for Trinity Mirror on a couple of weekly newspapers covering a reasonably large area. While I can't actually say where thanks to Auntie Libel, let's just say it was on a series of papers under the Midlands and North group - including the Liverpool Echo, Birmingham Mail, Birmingham Post and Coventry Telegraph. Again, I must stress it wasn't actually any of these papers, which I know are quality newspapers written by some of the hardest working people I know. It was just in a similar vein. Okay? Glad we've cleared that up.

The year was 2008. It was a heady, hot summer and- wait, we can't begin like this. Who am I kidding? It's the Midlands. You know what the summers are like here.
I was starting out as a cubby with no NCTJs - but we know how that story branches off, so I won't repeat myself. All was well, except that big nasty thing being poked with sticks and vaguely called the credit crunch was emerging, and we noticed that fewer and fewer houses were being advertised in the paper, and fewer companies could afford to advertise anything, full stop. Even still, we ignored it and hoped it would go away. It didn't. As you know, newspapers are hit pretty hard by recessions - the first in and the first out, as I was told at the time. I left to go back to Uni.
On my return for working over the Christmas break, I noticed there were fewer staff day by day. Centralisation was pulling a lot of the subs kicking and screaming to the flagship offices and print works in the cities. While this was reasonably pleasant to not have some jobsworth breathing down your neck about the unconventional spellings of towns in the 'local area' - (see what I did there? No...probably not. I thought it was funny, and that's all that matters) - while this was pleasant, it also meant there were fewer people to make tea for you. And, you know, check your work.
Long story short, an awful lot of fuss was being kicked up over Trinity Mirror not really having an awful lot of money. 'Voluntary' redundancies were flying about, claiming some of the best reporters, photographers and sub-editors I have ever met. Those who didn't take them up would be sacked anyway. Centralisation. Cutting down on costs. Fucking up lives.

And so the story continues. Papers closed. Small, local papers often serving a tiny but incredibly loyal readership. A greater online presence was launched. Fat lot of good that is to the little old lady reading The Weekly Giant Cheque And Kittens who probably thinks the 'internet' is northern fly-fishing slang. Trinity Mirror closed papers and removed people's livelihoods, jobs and quite often, the only trade a lot of writers had ever known - as well as removing the readership from the print product loop - which is most arguably The Point of newspapers.

And now, as if by magic, they've acquired £44.8 million in order to ACQUIRE the GMG Regional - 32 newspapers and several associated websites. I can't help but wonder how many of my ex-colleagues wages have contributed to this amount, and just how many 57 pences you need to save in order to justify closing some people's only lifeline on local news. This may well just be business as usual in a business environment, but it smells like dirty money to me.


Details concerning the GMN are available here: http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/537516.php

Some regarding the take-over of GMG and potential further centralisation are available here: http://www.journalism.co.uk/2/articles/537511.php

*Including gross assets of £8.7 million.

(I ought now to stress that all opinions expressed in this blog are mine alone - I'm just one out-of-work journo having a whinge about a company or two. It's not worth suing me for my JSA, honestly.)