Thursday, March 12, 2009

Revelling in misery - Greenslade goes way, way too far

Posted this earlier in response to this nonsense by Prof Roy Greenslade, a semi-answer to this piece of news about the Guardian Media Group's deeply disturbing behaviour in Manchester.

Offensive, snobbish, ignorant, mealy-mouthed bullshit Roy. Seems like a hand-wringing excercise in not criticising one's own employer after the rape of the highly profitable Greater Manchester weeklies in order to keep Guardian staff in cappucinos and maintain the Titanic-sized disaster that is Channel M (for merde), one of the most criminal acts in the history of British regional journalism, and I'm fairly sure that rumbling is the sound of CP Scott turning in his grave.

The free newspapers (use of the term 'freesheets' tells its own stories) which are being closed, normally after years of being subtllely undermined by their owners, ARE the good ones. They were set up in what had, for years, bee one-horse towns. They offered an option to advertisers who had for years struggled with cartel pricing and limited availability from the established papers. More importantly they offered a voice for people who couldn't get a word in edgeways as the local paid-for became the voice of the establishment, with editors who would rather have an agreeable beer with the council leader or local MP rather than hold them to account.

The journalism could rarely be considered crusading, but it was often lighter-hewed, more involving and more people-focused than the alternative. Incredibly hard-working, motivated staff who've been battered for years by a drip-drip-drip of cutbacks and office closures now find the door slammed in their faces.

Ironically, the really harmful, low-quality freesheets, the ones owned by established newspapers and used as a defensive weapon against undercutting competitors, are thriving more than ever. A whole slew of new launches over the last couple of years under names like 'Community News' and 'Weekender' offer content which has already appeared in the 'main' paper and a second tier of defensive freesheet. Advertisers are conned into paying over the odds for packages - but the smarter ones just take the cheap option in the hope of being spotted at the bottom of the cat litter tray. And, while in theory they require no editorial control (because the content's recycled, innit) their production does place a strain on newsrooms, especially newsdesks and the perennial cutback victims on the subs desk.

Ironically this is the very failed model the Guardian Media Group has chosen for its Manchester papers, some of which have a history stretching back more than a century.

And what of the people of Accrington, who now see their local weekly moved to central Manchester only a couple of years after their local daily, the Lancashire Telegraph, recalled staff to its bunker in Blackburn?

But there is a solution. If every one of the Guardianistas earning more than £50k a year took a 20 per cent pay cut they could save more than a few jobs. So the people of, say, Stockport, could enjoy reading their local newspaper, the one they've enjoyed since 1889, rather than recycled MEN garbage.

So how about it? Time to reinforce your egalitarian principles chaps. If not, I hope you choke on your lattes.
Thing is, Greenslade's often right, has a sound reputation and history in journalism. He's also a wind-up merchant. But this is no time for wind ups.