Grey Cardigan
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When the union knows better than the boss, it’s time to rethink the strategy

LOCAL WORLD, David Montgomery’s Northcliffe-Iliffe mash-up, reported first year profits of £38.9 million last week based on revenues of £230.6 million, a margin of getting on for 17 per cent. This meant a payout of £15 million for shareholders DMGT and £7.76 million for Trinity Mirror.

A good result on the face of it, but the revenue breakdown tells a slightly different story. The digital income, on which the company has staked its future, made up less than nine per cent of the total revenues, and very probably none of the profit. This brings us back to the boring old argument about sacrificing print, which if invested in and cared for can continue to make good profits for the next 30 years, to pursue the magic beans of digital dosh.

As NUJ organiser Chris Morley points out: “Local World is a new company born without the twin millstones of historic debt and pension fund deficit to drag it down so its future should look bright. Yet the company’s declared strategy does not earmark any place for newspapers and instead David Montgomery merely seeks to transform Local World into a ‘digitised transaction business’.”

Now I’m no fan of the NUJ, but when the union clearly knows more about how to prolong Local World’s future as a successful business than the bosses, it might be time to rethink the strategy.

And let’s not forget that those profits came at a human cost – all the staff who have lost their jobs to fund the digital dash (ironically, the Derby-based IT department will be the next to go, with those jobs ‘outsourced’ to India). Meanwhile departing chief executive Steve Auckland waltzed off with a cool £1.3 million pay-off and £1.1 million has been set aside for “a senior executive long-term incentive plan”. No wonder every Local World journalist I meet asks me how they can escape.

 

ANOTHER chief exec off to spend more time with his money is Archant’s Adrian Jeakings, who departed the group rather suddenly this month. Like his boardoom peers, Adrian also appears to have adopted the weird vocabulary common in the marbled halls. While Monty thinks he’s running a ‘digitised transaction business’, Mr Jeakings thinks he’s transformed the company from ‘a primarily print and product-focussed group to a customer and community-focussed media solutions business’.

Where do they get this claptrap from? Is there a special course they go on? I wonder if back in 1845, Jeremiah Colman, one of the founders of the group, ever thought that his fortune wasn’t based on making world-famous mustard, but was instead ‘delivering a food-focused condiment application’. Somehow I doubt it.

 

AS WE all know, there are thousands of jobs out there for wannabe journalists, so it makes perfect sense for the Brighton Journalist Works, part of the much-derided Argus operation, to encourage yet more to enter the trade. This can only be the intention of their online advert stating: “Earn while you learn to be a journalist. Want to become qualified as a journalist but can’t afford to take time out from earning a living? Then this course is for you.”

It goes on to offer a NCTJ qualification after a part-time course involving study every Monday evening from 6pm-9pm and every Saturday from 9am-5pm for eight months, plus one week full-time. “You’ll take all the same modules as the full-time course to become a qualified journalist, and take NCTJ exams.” The cost? “Fees are £3,950 including VAT and NCTJ exam fees.”

Now what strikes me about this is that by appealing to people who have already got a job, and one that pays enough for them to afford the best part of four grand for the course, the people behind this are creating a false expectation in those who take up the offer. Presumably they will be older than the usual entrant, and earning a damn sight more than the £15k on offer to the hundreds of kids already scrapping for trainee jobs. So what the fuck are they going to do with this treasured qualification? Do they really think that they’re going to walk into a job? The mind boggles.

 

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Grey Cardigan

Written by Grey Cardigan

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

  • Oliver

    Sorry, but with the Local World bit you clearly understand the actual business, but not business itself. The mid-to-long-term goal of LW is to transform from print to digital as it’s main source of revenue, but this will take a little time. As you said, print still makes the most money but the additional profit is coming, mainly, from cutting staff.
    So, you have fairly large but stagnant print ad revenues and huge cost savings from staff cuts. This equals large print profit. You then have small, but growing digital ad revenues and, with investment in staff (sales/retraining) you only get a small profit.
    Eventually, this model cannot go any further and the percentage of profit from digital should increase sharply from that point. This would be the point at which the business is ‘streamlined’ as far as it can go, thus creating Monty’s vision.
    If it doesn’t happen, all the shareholders walk away with years of dividends from the current profits and it all gets sold off piecemeal to local consortia – which is what DMGT were planning to do with several titles before Monty came along.
    I don’t agree with any of this from the perspective of local news but, as a piece of business, it makes total sense.

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