Read All About It… While You Still Can April 17, 2012Posted by markswill in Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
“There is no such thing as an original thought,” is a quotation I can’t find attributed in any reference book, nor even on the interweb. But just to confirm the wisdom of its author, this latest scribble is lifted almost entirely from newspapers and magazines. Which in a sense is a Good Thing, because according to an item in last Saturday’s Guardian, news media in printed form is definitely buggered.
Reporter Mark Sweeney revealed that the Yorkshire Post, once the jewel in the crown of regional newspaper conglomerate, Johnston Press, is replacing its editor with a ‘director’. The same fate recently befell the stewardship of the Lancashire Evening Post, whilst up at The Scotsman the editor-in-chief’s role was eradicated. Perhaps needless to say, the new CEO at Johnstons is a man with no prior experience in print media, Ashley Highfield, whose career thus far embraced senior roles at Microsoft and BBC Digital. And in the same story, Sweeney listed woeful circulation and job losses right across the regional newspaper landscape.
As it happens, I have friends who work elsewhere in the Johnston empire and know anecdotally that they are cruel masters who, like Trinity-Mirror and many other newspaper owners try to maintain profitability – or at least manage decline – in an industry hemorrhaging both advertising and circulation revenue in an internet age, by simply if ruthlessly cutting costs, and that means jobs.
This is happening nationally too, of course: The Guardian incomprehensibly slashes its print media resources in favour of free online content (currently costing it £90,000 a day), whilst the Telegraph pursues a similar strategy by sacking many of its reporters and (very obviously) most of its sub-editors in an effort to keep its owners, the weird old Barclay brothers, in private islands and fancy hotels.
And yet in a masterpiece of mistiming, the very next day the Sunday Times magazine’s cover story offered a lengthy, well-researched tale of how local newspapers are fighting back, if not always weathering the storm. Tim Rayment reported on several ‘papers who by assiduously understanding and covering their local patch still rock political boats and vested interests and in so doing keep their readerships, albeit often in concert with paid-for apps delivering content to tablets and smartphones. But looking to America where apparently almost a quarter of consumers use mobile devices to get their news, Rayment asked, “Who will pay for the journalism… when for every $1 won from online advertising last year, (newspapers) lost $10 in print ads?”
Trinity-Mirror’s brutal CEO, Sly Bailey, the Barclay Brothers and Guardian editor (and evident print-hater) Alan Rusbridger seems to think that this doesn’t matter, but as Rayment explained – and as I know from my own editorship of the local ‘paper here in Wales – the newsgathering abilities of national newspapers, never mind broadcast media such as “the BBC’s Today programme – every politician’s morning listening – would stop” if the regional and local newspaper hacks weren’t around to feed them stories. What would they do instead – rely on lazy, ill-informed and above all opinionated bloggers? Perish the thought, and if nothing else this article offered significant evidence that those newspaper owners who do invest in their reporting activities are the ones in the best health.
Still with the Guardian and the Sunday Times, and still on print’n’paper, the tax affairs of dear old Amazon.com were recently digested from both titles in its unique if not always entirely dispassionate manner by The Week. It seems that on a stonking £3.3bn of UK sales last year, the Luxembourg-based Amazon paid no corporation tax here, and of course it also uses the low-tax Channel Islands as a conduit for its mail-order sales to Britain. Furthermore, because unlike the printed variety, VAT at 20% is applied to eBooks – “which now account for a lucrative one-fifth of the £1.9bn UK book market,” whereas in the Channel Islands it’s a piffling 3.5%. We are told that our millionaire chancellor is looking into the tax avoidance schemes employed by many big retailers such as Amazon, and The Week asks if “Amazon’s tax avoidance (could) kill off Britain’s bookshops?”
With local bookshops closing at the rate of almost two a week, the total down 26% since 2006, the answer may well be ‘yes’. Of course I know that some of my friends won’t give a fig if they’re all gone in a couple of years, along with daily deliveries by the Royal Mail who, with supreme irony and commercial myopia, didn’t get the original delivery contract with Amazon because they couldn’t match the prices of the same private companies who use Royal Mail posties to walk their packages to our doors! Which signals a segue into the Royal Mail raising its prices by 39% as a prelude to being partially priviaised next year, as recently announced by its new boss, Moya Green. (The £500,000 a year Ms Green was parachuted in from the Canadian Post Office where she managed to sack a third of its workforce, reduced delivery services by 27% and increased charges by 34% – mail volumes subsequently dropping by 20-30%).
Which is where I’ll haul this juggernaut to a halt. Clearly we are seeing the not-so-slow death of print media. I hope it won’t be in my lifetime, but in saying so I don’t believe that I’m a Luddite just because I won’t spend a few hundred quid on an iPad and further degrade my eyesight doing all my reading via the internet. If, or rather when humans are finally unable to buy and read printed newspapers, magazines and books, I hope I’ll be long dead but if the crude economic imperatives are ultimately the only ones that matter, does anyone – industrialist, economist or politician really know what impact it will have on jobs, democracy and consequently the material and cultural well-being of countries where they once held sway?
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