Mirror departures show the declining importance of the editor in big media businesses

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Patrick Smith, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Newspapers

Trinity Mirror's surprise decision to merge the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror (release)- as well as jettisoning the editor of each title - is a confirmation of a trend that has been stalking big media companies for the last 12 months: editorial managers are losing control to the boardrooms.

Daily Mirror editor Richard Wallace and Sunday Mirror editor Weaver - more than 20 years' service at the Mirror between them - were both unceremoniously told their roles had been redundant this morning. 

According to Wallace's email to staff quoted here, he didn't see it coming:

Sly Bailey, the famously well-remunerated Trinity Mirror CEO, is also on the way out later this year and Roy Greenslade - a former Mirror editor - has concluded that this is her final Machiavellian act: taking her internal opponents down as she herself is forced out.

But revenge from Sly? It seems more likely to me that this is a business that still wants to cut costs, having cut thousands already. It's in need of some big thinking, taking the brands into a digital age. So the company has just removed two of its very highest earners and also now finds itself free to appoint people perhaps more keen to engage with the future it wants to build.

Over at Johnston Press, Ashley Highfield is doing something similar: the editor posts at the Yorkshire Evening Post, Yorkshire Post, The Scotsman and the Lancashire Evening Post are all gone. Editors-in-chief roles across weekly regional titles have been disappearing for the last five years. 

Although editors are the heart of soul of publications and the driving force behind the editorial machine, media company boardrooms are starting to question their value and strategic direction.

As David Worlock wrote some weeks ago on Highfield's radical of JP, editors tends to: 

-- Run their online products as if they were newspapers.

-- Are reluctant to allow their own digital media assets to scoop the paper.

-- Have traditionally used their role as protectors and developers of the brand to diminish and hold down their digital presence.

-- And are too often regarded digital as a subordinate medium which must reflect and emulate print.

I don't know if that's fair to say of the two departing Mirror editors, but the digital revenue generated by the two titles has not grown enough, although the pace was faster in the nationals division. Paid-for tablet apps from the Mirror are conspicuously absent and in development, in contrast to some of its rivals.

On the merging of resources, there's nothing revolutionary about running a joined up operation. News International has done the same with The Sun after the demise of News of the World and similar actions are being taken at newspaper groups across the world. Having titles competing against each other for stories and resources makes no sense.

Nor does it make much sense to have two redtop Sunday newspapers - the Sunday Mirror and the People - in the same group.

What's really going on?

Weaver and Wallace were known to oppose the company's move towards an integrated, seven-day newsroom. Some 75 jobs were recently cut across the nationals division and the regional and national digital operations were merged.

Trinity is using MediaSpectrum's ContentWatch CMS technology to build a more efficient newsroom - it means templating of stories and a faster process of creating both print and online pages. Here's how I described it back in 2009 when Trinity was busy cutting jobs in its Glasgow and Birmingham titles:

"What is ContentWatch? It’s a web-based CMS that integrates with all the software that newspapers use like Adobe InDesign and can be used to design web or newspaper pages.

"Crucially, it simplifies the production process when it comes to still and moving images — so picture editors and sub-editors who spend much of their time managing, filing and inserting images now find their jobs under threat from easy-to-use software other staff can be trained to use.

"Trinity claims the ContentWatch reduces the steps in the production process from five to three — so expect the staff numbers to fall but a similar ratio."

The company saved 30 percent in costs in its Birmingham office by using this technology, among other things.

What we're seeing is the end of an era in which newspapers use print-specific job roles. So picture editor, sub-editor, chief sub-editor... all these functions that grew from newspapers' industrial past are being replaced by multi-tasking and technology. 

Whether these latest Trinity cuts are unimaginative is a matter for debate - some may say that cost cutting is the last thing it needs - but there's little doubt that the trend of technology automating the editorial process is unavoidable.

And the role editors play at the top of that new, multi-platform organisation is very much up for grabs.

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