Thursday 11 December 2008

Saving the regional press from the cost-cutting 'big boys': the Barrie Williams way

In his autobiography, 'Ink in the Blood', which was published last year, former Nottingham Evening Post and Western Morning News editor Barrie Williams admitted he was gloomy about the future of the regional press after a 44-year career in the industry. What seemed pessimistic then, seems prescient now. Here are some quotes from the book.

"Very few people in this country are aware that there is a strongly held view among some observers that most of our much-loved local Press is at risk of being driven into extinction by the unavoidable profit demands of its owners and the inexorable growth of new media...."I just cannot see how the current pursuit of huge and ever-increasing profits can be commensurate with a passionate commitment to strong local journalism - the industry's raison d'etre nor, consequently, with the long term survival of our local newspapers."

Barrie put forward a solution to the growing problems of the regional press: local ownership. A view which has become much more popular now the big regional players are in the grip of the financial crisis.

He wrote: "The life expectancy of both local journalism and local newspapers could be extended very considerably if the big groups got out of regional newspaper publishing and sold their newspapers individually to new local proprietors or consortia.

"The time may come when the big companies will be prepared to sell the titles in other than one big, hugely expensive block and that is when the prospect of local ownership could be opened up. New local owners, with just one or two newspapers each and different motivation and financial expectation, would have dramatically lower costs and could afford to have much less demanding and escalating profit targets while still getting a more than decent return.

"This would mean that the local owners could invest more in editorial quality and promotion, which, in turn, would mean that the newspapers could be far better equipped to survive than they might be under the constant cost cutting of the big boys who have no alternative to staying in the rat race."

"The local "rag" is taken so much for granted that few people will realise how badly it will be missed until it is too late."

'Ink in the Blood' is published by Woodfield I interviewed Barrie Williams about his life in newspapers for Press Gazette. You can read it here.

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