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Shields Gazette publisher under the cosh

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Johnston Press in eye watering money deal with bankers

It would be so easy to abuse it and lose it, and I dare say we’ve often either complained to ourselves or listened to the complaints of others, and the most common complaint about the Shields Gazette is that it went downhill after they started printing in Sunderland. We could be a bit lazy and read it for free online, then the silly complaint about where it is printed won’t come into the equation, or we could get off our collective backsides and go and buy a copy just to help them out.

The Shields Gazette is Britain’s oldest provincial daily evening newspaper and it’s owners, Johnston Press, are in deep doo doo, debts are soaring and job cuts have already been made in an effort to cut costs, their advertising revenue is falling, as is common throughout the printed newspaper and magazine sector, circulation is falling too as sales struggle to be described as buoyant. That is the crux of the matter as the old printed media tries to come to terms with modern expectations (which include reading content for free on the internet), and unless editorial influences at Johnston Press can produce something which punters want to buy, and want to buy more of more frequently, then their problems look likely to multiply at an alarming rate.

Johnston Press has just struck a deal to refinance it’s debts, which Peter Kirwan at The Press Gazette describes as being akin to creating a cash machine for the masters of the universe (the banks), I’ve just read his piece and the numbers are eye watering for any company, let alone one whose product is losing demand day by day. Last week, Johnston Press refinanced £485m-worth of debt with its banks. The company had no choice in the matter: some of its debts were starting to fall due. In fact it seems that that Johnston Press needs to do the same as Gordon Brown’s Labour government – stop spending money. However that would be an unrealistic expectation when there are wages to pay and newspapers to produce, but again like Brown’s government they need to raise more revenue, and that is where you and I come in.

If we want our local newspapers to survive, if we want content to remain community based and parochial then we need to actively support them by purchasing hard copies, and if newspaper proprietors want us to buy their product then they need to offer something which we want (this is how free markets work remember). We want local stories, local politics covered in a manner that empathises and reflects the views of local communities, and that means proportionate coverage for divergent views, local sport, and local advertising that helps the local economy. If that means slimming down pages and payrolls then so be it, at least I think I reflect the views of many by repeating what I hear, that we don’t really want to waste our effort reading stories about Sunderland, Peterlee, or Consett, at least not in South Shields!

Only by being responsive to their local communities can Johnston Press hope to bolster it’s position and provide some stability for it’s stable of titles, unfortunately it must be  difficult to attempt to be answerable to two masters, the consumer and the banker.

Help your hard pressed press and buy a Gazette!

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Written by curly

September 7, 2009 at 7:54 pm

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