IT SEEMS appropriate that on the day the Monty Python team gathered for their reunion press conference, another Monty should reveal a vision more surreal than anything Terry Gilliam could come up with in his wildest moments.
I refer to Local World chief executive David Montgomery, whose 2,200-word mission statement to his troops yesterday sent shock and bewilderment throughout the industry.
Montgomery speaks in tongues; of ‘content harvesting’ and ‘content hierarchy’, ‘specialist segment journalists’ and ‘providing attractive formats for third party content in the first instance online and for constantly monitoring the content to instigate its promotion to a position of prominence’. (You tell me. I haven’t a fucking clue.)
His vision of the weekly newspaper of the near future is quite terrifying. Instead of a modest staff of an editor (shared, these days, across several titles), a couple of reporters, a couple of subs and perhaps a photographer, he plans to have one person – maybe a journalist, maybe not – working from their garden shed, ‘skimming’ a vast deluge of user-generated content and filling the pages of the newspaper with material from this public swill bin in one or two sittings.
This user-generated content will be press releases from the police (nothing useful, of course, just reminders to lock your shed and check the lights on your bike), from local councils (whose lies and spin will pass by unexamined) and the kind of nonsense from Joe Public that used to be impaled straight onto the spike. (And that’s where the real danger lies. The Powers That Be will just bore you to death; the nutters will land you in court.)
All this crap will be funnelled around the ads and into print for the perusal of people who were once used to buying a proper newspaper. No courts, no proper council reports, no campaigns, no investigations, no holding those in public office to account. Imagine the worst kind of freebie local ad mag and multiply by 10.
Such lunacy would be beyond belief if it wasn’t being spouted by the swivel-eyed loon who runs the company. I can’t help but wonder what his partners and shareholders think about this. He might not like it, but Local World’s traditional, printed newspapers make almost all of the group’s profits. The websites, despite a recent tidy-up, contribute buttons and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Why then is he seemingly so eager to kill off print? He won’t even be left with a pot to piss in. Indeed, his madcap missive can easily be read as the longest suicide note in history.
While this is terrible news for Local World’s employees – despite several years of shedding talent, still some of the best in the business – it could well be good news for those just waiting in the wings for the big groups to get fed up with these troublesome regional titles and start returning them to local ownership where they truly belong. And all those redundant hacks launching proper, hyperlocal news websites must be rubbing their hands with glee.
Monty’s pursuit of this Holy Grail is deluded, dangerous and desperately unfair on those who have carved out successful careers in our trade. I blow my nose at him. He can go and boil his bottom. And it wouldn’t surprise me if his mother was a hamster and his father smelt of elderberries.
AND NOW, predictably, for something different. Billy Bragg, a musical hero of mine, has unfortunately had a leftie brain fart and urged the EU to buy the Daily Mail, sack Lord Dacre and use the paper to tell the ‘truth’ about European unity.
Oh Billy. Silly, silly Billy. So it’s not OK for the Mail to preach its own political agenda, but it is OK for you to dictate yours? Doesn’t really work that, does it?
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan