I’ve seen the future of newspapers and there isn’t one, well, not, I think, if we follow the Local World business model, which far from being a brave new world, seems to be hell-bent on handing the local rag over to the control of police press officers and any old dear who fancies a bit of vanity publishing.
Local World chairman David Montgomery’s vision, set out in a 2,200 word rambling essay, said by the firm to be “an internal working paper”, is an alarming forecast on what faces the regional press.
I’ve worked on all the biggest stories of the last 40 years and I’ve never heard anything so worrying – or frankly, so daft.
Who on earth is going to buy into this? Would you fork out a quid for a publication full of council and police press releases and stuff sent in by village correspondents, even if it is tarted up by a jack-of-all-trades journalist?
Among David’s key points:
Anyone who has worked in local newspapers has encountered the village correspondent – they’re never off the phone with their moans of copy being cut or left out. Some can use computers, many haven’t a clue. The one thing they are expert at though is complaining.
David’s vision seems to take rather a lot from the civil service, with his talk of the foot-in-the-door reporter being updated with organisational ability.
Being able to get all your pencils in a row is an organisational triumph but David hasn’t managed it yet. There are too many holes in his plan.
Take courts for instance. Courts? You remember them? Where do they fit into this DIY newspaper idea? Every reporter I’ve ever worked with has had NCTJ or the equivalent training.
Surely it’s just a bit of shorthand and making sure you spell the chairman of magistrates’ name right? Yes, but then there’s the problem of juveniles and S39 orders.
I’ve lost count over the years of the number of times I’ve asked the newsdesk (no newsdesk in David’s new office) to check facts in a court story.
When people ask me what a sub-editor does – pay attention as you won’t be seeing them in Local World – I tell them my main role is to keep the editor out of jail. It’s also to keep money for the shareholders, rather than splurging it on payouts for things we’ve got wrong.
If you don’t have subs David, you’ll need libel insurance, a lot of it.
What he’s completely forgotten is that news is often the sort of thing that people don’t want in the paper. When is the reporter uploading all these press releases going to have time to actually follow up any stories?
What about Local World editors?
As for the man in the glass office (I presume he means one of the 13 editors I’ve worked for) presiding grandly over the current system, the editor has a vital role. This is the person who takes final responsibility for what we do to his newspaper. Every editor I’ve worked for has been hands-on, it’s a really bad idea to think they’re dispensable.
So will David’s brave new Local World be popular with the readers? Time will tell.
More on this in Press Gazette’s Monty’s memo reaction round-up
Image Source: Jon S