TEN YEARS ago, the Reading Evening Post won Regional Newspaper of the Year for the second year running. Five years ago it dropped ‘Evening’ from its masthead and turned into a Wednesday weekly, with a free version distributed on a Friday. By the end of this year, it will be no more, as Trinity Mirror closes it down, along with the Harrow Observer and five other newspapers in Berkshire, Surrey and West London, with the loss of 50 jobs.
And so the first ‘daily’ newspaper falls victim to our changing times, and to the sheer stupidity of Trinity Mirror management, who should never have been in the regional newspaper business in the first place. (The Post was one of a ring of daily newspapers launched by Thomson Regional Newspapers in the 1960s. It then fell into the hands of the Guardian Media Group, who didn’t know what to do with titles like this either, before being sold on to Trinity Mirror.)
The shock felt across the industry comes because this is the first former daily to go under. Others have gone weekly; none have yet been closed down. Now I don’t have detailed knowledge of the financial position at Reading, but every single regional daily I know reasonably well still makes money, and good money at that. I bang on here relentlessly about how group managements should be nurturing those titles, because there’s decades of profit still to be made from them. So was the Reading Post really making a loss? And the Harrow Observer as well? It would take a management of truly spectacular cluelessness to achieve that.
Perhaps the mucky business of ink on newsprint has just become too troublesome in these shiny, new digital days – an unnecessary distraction from the business of uploading irrelevant clickbait and listicles and pretending that dustbin fires and jargon-loaded police press releases are real news, because that’s what the people of Reading can expect in future.
Simon Edgley, the managing director of Trinity Mirror Southern, says: “This is a bold digital-only publishing transformation that will re-establish us as a growing media business that delivers the best quality journalism to our digital-savvy audience.”
The website will “concentrate on the four key areas of content that matter to the Berkshire audience, namely breaking news, what’s on, Reading Football Club and sport”.
I assume then that the “digital-savvy audience” has no interest in what’s happening in their children’s schools, the state of their local hospitals, the direction of transport policy, ever more tricky planning issues, criminality and court cases, or the machinations of local politics (where those councillors who prefer to operate without public scrutiny will be now be rubbing their hands with glee).
I think we all know what’s going to happen here. The “ best quality journalism” will turn out to be a roomful of kids with no journalism qualifications, cutting and pasting complete bollocks while uploading submitted content and mobile phone pictures with nary a glance at its relevance or even legality. “Go out of the building and research and write a proper story? Sorry, don’t know how to do that.”
It’s a sad day for the regional newspaper industry and especially for the journalists involved. It’s an even sadder day for the population of Reading.
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