While one side of Guardian Media Group rolls out an open technology initiative, things aren’t so prosperous at GMG’s regional newspapers. The National Union of Journalists claims up to 150 jobs are under threat at MEN Media – publisher of the Manchester Evening News, Channel M and 23 free and paid-for weekly newspapers in Greater Manchester and Cheshire. There are some severe numbers involved for a local publisher: the company is seeking up to 150 volunteers from commercial and editorial departments, including 39 at the MEN from a newsroom of 90, and all GMG Weekly Newspapers offices will be shut down with staff moving to GMG’s central Manchester offices — if you work for the Accrington Observer and live in the town, that’s just added 44 miles to your day’s commute.
It can only be seen as a retreat from local media for GMG: these newspapers base their success on chronicling the everyday happenings of towns like Rochdale and Stockport and in some cases have been in their towns for more than 150 years. There has been integration of the newspapers’ online content with that of the MEN, plus cross-syndication of video content from MEN’s local TV operation Channel M — and it’s speaks volumes about GMG’s long-term plans that these cuts don’t affect Channel M (see our update below). GMG was one of the businesses that (successfully) lobbied the government and BBC Trust to put a stop to BBC plans for expanded local video news coverage, on the basis that it would kill off its own nascent video efforts. So GMG appears to be staying true to its promise to maintain investment in online video, although Manchester folk may now be wondering about its commitment to local, printed newspapers.
UPDATE: MEN has now issued a statement (via PG), saying the new model is “designed to protect the business and its journalism for the future through a new model with significantly lower fixed costs.” With staff costs the biggest part of the company’s outgoings, it says job cuts are unavoidable — so while a voluntary redundancy deal is currently being offered, compulsory cuts can’t be ruled out. The local weekly journalists will be merged into the MEN newsroom but will continue to work their patches remotely. On top of all that, the MEN is to distribute fewer free copies in the city centre and will reduce the number of pages.
UPDATE 2: GMG has been in touch to point out that MEN Media is reviewing costs and operating structures at Channel M — but separately and on a different timetable to the newspapers. Channel M is being reviewed partly because of the unresolved role of local TV in the on-going debate over public service broadcasting, currently being chewed over by Lord Carter in his Digital Britain review. But, the overall aim is the same across MEN Media — to lower costs and make the business sustainable.
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