Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Ex-Kent Messenger Group journalist: 'Local press problems are of its own making'

Former Kent Messenger Group journalist Justin Williams, now an assistant editor at the Telegraph, is scathing on his blog CounterValue about what's gone wrong for the regional press.
He writes: "Even the supposedly enlightened independent groups have done precious little of worth for getting on for a decade.
"Take my local publisher and one-time employer - the Kent Messenger Group. Since the turn of the century investment in the kind of quality journalism that once made the KM a beacon of value amid the gloom of mediocrity has been ignored in favour of something else… anything else.
"Pointless expansions outside its core area were followed by the inevitable retrenchments. A pursuit of cheap, dumbed down “community news” instead of the serious heavyweight local journalism that saw the KM beat all comers (including the nationals) to Press Gazette’s Newspaper of the Year title in 1988.
"The launch or acquisition of a series of community radio stations costing somewhere north of £12 million and several subsequent millions and the refusal to see that this strategy wasn’t working year after year after year. The result? A giant in regional publishing has been enfeebled - its circulations decimated, its multi-million pound press plant to be closed and printing outsourced, its website confused and filled with the dirge that plasters its printed pages and, tragically, the laying off of nearly 40% of its workforce.
"Major population centres like Canterbury are now “served” by a handful of young journalists on distant industrial estates while city centre sites, earmarked for housing development, lie windblown, empty and credit crunched. The KM is one example of many. Its decline is a catastrophe for the industry - the brightest light and greatest centre of excellence snuffed out by poor management and a disastrous business strategy."
He concludes: "The local press’s problems are of its own making. They will not be solved by Andy Burnham, the BBC or anybody else. Some centres of publishing will survive but we should brace ourselves for a mining-style industrial death.
"Will anything take its place? Can the nascent local blogging networks start to make enough money just to keep going through this? We have to hope they can."

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