Sad news this week from my local paper, the Hampshire Chronicle, which has just lost its editor in a ‘restructuring.’
Keith Redbourn has left the paper, which he led for a decade, because its owner, Newsquest, made his post redundant in a restructuring that will see one “editor in chief” manage four weeklies from a “central editorial hub” in Southampton.
Like most local papers, the Chronicle has seen its readership decline over the past two decades. Newsquest’s response has been to cut costs: shifting the paper out of its distinctive High Street offices, moving it from broadsheet to ‘compact’ format, and sharing staff with the local daily (plus, of course, website and social media operations).
Relying on “a new IT system” to support centralised editing and subbing is entirely in keeping with this trend.
But it means removing another, senior journalist, with good local contacts and knowledge from the ever-shrinking pool of staff expected to get the paper out (and, of course, the website up, live-blogging covered, and Twitter promotions out).
If local journalism – as opposed to campaigning, or blogging – is to survive, it can surely do so only by showing that it is working within the traditions of papers like the Chronicle, and by doing a more professional, more accurate, more informed job than the alternatives.
Otherwise, what are readers going to pick it up for – and what are local businesses, or even the local branches of national chains being asked to support?
The constant cost-cutting behind this week’s announcement feels like a move in exactly the opposite direction. The Chronicle was founded in 1772 and moved to Winchester in 1778. It’s more than 240 years’ old. It will probably make it to 250; but how long will it be around after that?