Grey Cardigan

White flag or white feather?

SO WHAT if Heinz suddenly decided that they couldn’t be arsed producing baked beans any more? You’d open the tin and find a meagre spoonful of the real thing, accompanied by some green beans, a few paper clips and a handful of dolly mixtures. And that seems to be Trinity Mirror’s approach to its Midlands operation following a quite gob-smacking internal memo emerged last week.

I suppose we should have realised something was afoot with boss Simon Fox’s recent, profoundly depressing, assessment of the traditional side of his business: “Print is difficult,” he said. “Print is going backwards, the market is going backwards. Our objective is to out-perform the market. To win the backwards race; to go backwards more slowly than our competitors.”

OK, so there’s a tactical retreat, but that doesn’t have to mean complete capitulation. Yet that is the only conclusion to be drawn from one single sentence in a reply from management to newsroom questions in Birmingham and Coventry: “The days are long gone when we could afford to be a paper of record and dutifully report everything that happened on our patch.”

So the place that considers itself England’s second city (it’s not really; that’s Manchester) can apparently no longer sustain a proper daily newspaper? That is a shameful indictment on Trinity Mirror management, even if we accept that there never was a true “paper of record” that dutifully reported everything that happened on its patch, even in the halcyon days of the regional press. But there were newspapers that covered courts and councils, crime and communities; newspapers that held politicians and the police to account and campaigned hard on local issues; newspapers that told parents what was going on in their children’s schools. This is what Birmingham and Coventry is in danger of losing.

And it gets worse. As part of the same memo – which, incidentally, announced the loss of 25 more jobs – the company informed its journalists that in future they were going to be set targets for personal online audience growth which will be written into their job descriptions. I think we all know what’s going to happen here.

So you’re sitting at your desk and on your screen flashes a warning that you’re not engaging the online audience sufficiently and may face disciplinary action unless things improve. You look at the pile of council minutes in front of you, dismiss the thought of an hour’s hard graft sifting through them and instead tweet a link to a picture of Beyonce on a beach in California; or last night’s lottery numbers (a classic Local World ploy); or a listicle nicked from a national newspaper site.

Or you could be even more inventive. How long before we get ‘stories’ like this: “Pensioner Joe Bloggs took first prize at the West Bromwich fruit and produce show with a giant marrow the size of Kim Kardashian’s arse…” or “Pub singer Jane Doe, known locally as the Lady Gaga of Dudley, has been arrested for shoplifting…” You can see where I’m going with this SEO-wise, but what is a man to do?

As regular readers will know, I despair of local newspaper websites that post national or even international clickbait. It has no relevance to readers, is of no value to advertisers, and irritates the shit out of people who expect local news from the local media. Trinity Mirror’s latest cowardly withdrawal from the front line of news will only make things worse. They may not be waving the white flag quite yet, but they certainly deserve a white feather.

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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

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