This week, Press Gazette reported that the 150-year-old Ham & High was to lose its editor. From now on, the paper would be one of four titles edited by the extremely hard-working editor of the Hackney Gazette. Furthermore, its Finchley Road office would close, with some staff relocating to Barking.
With copy sales now under 3,000, clearly something had to give.
The standard industry response when faced with falling sales, has been to try one or more of the following: reduce headcount, deploy staff across multiple titles, ditch the editor role, outsource to central hubs, close expensive high street offices and get out of town.
And, in terms of costs, it works! Unsurprisingly, they do come down. But, do any of these things help in any way to enhance the newspaper and bring back lost readers? It’s hard to see how.
One has to wonder whether big media groups are the right home for small local newspapers, which will never be able provide the financial returns to keep head office accountants and shareholders happy.
Is there another way? Large groups could instead look to divest themselves of “marginal” titles, not to other large groups, but to local ownership teams. These would be management buy-outs for a nominal sum, where the parent company retains a small stake in the business and provides ongoing mentoring support and at-cost production and distribution services, but where newly energised local teams take their wonderful trusted brands forward. Run by local people for local people and utilising new funding models and imaginative new content partnerships. If ownership, management and staff were all as local as the paper itself, I could imagine a sustainable future. Plan A doesn’t seem to be working very well; perhaps it’s now time for plan B.