Small is beautiful

I went to a lovely leaving do last night.

It was a heart-warming send-off for a couple of long-serving former colleagues who have – with good grace – become two of the human faces of Trinity Mirror’s latest restructuring.

They were both approaching the new chapters in their lives with optimism and a degree of excitement.

They were, perhaps, more positive than some of the ‘survivor’ journalists now getting to grips with a brave new digital world all over again.

Across all the four biggest regional media companies, there can be little sense of certainty, or stability.

To Trinity Mirror’s credit, new roles are being created which mean some of the most talented folk can remain in the business.

But this week’s profit warning from Daily Mail and Mail Online owner DMGT shows how damaging the advertising recession has become.

The regional media always used to be able to point to major brands such as Tesco and car manufacturers for evidence of the value and effectiveness of print advertising.

Now it’s not so clear-cut, with supermarkets and car makers cutting back on their print marketing budgets.

The double whammy that constitutes what former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger called a force 12 digital hurricane comes from a gloomier than expected picture on the digital revenue that we hoped would be coming over the horizon.

One of the conclusions of some fascinating analysis – in the Guardian – of that storm is that the most sustainable businesses in future might well be the smallest.

I have long felt that the publishers – online and in print – with the brightest future are either the very local, or the very independent. Or, ideally, the very both.

Very much in the glass half full camp at last night’s gathering was an old friend who runs a very successful hyperlocal news business.

The enterprise that he coordinates from home produces free monthly magazines that serve 100,000 people, backed by websites and underpinned by PR and marketing services.

My brother no longer buys his regional daily. But he and all his friends devour a community weekly newspaper that covers their nearest town and surrounding villages.

It looks like a dog’s dinner. But it’s packed with recognisable names, sea-of-faces pictures, and really useful local info.

A few years ago, the regional media’s mantra was that ‘life is local.’

That simple truth hasn’t changed – and that’s something journalism educators like me need to recognise. If only by thinking about whether we need to better prepare students for what might be called entrepreneurial journalism.

We are still parochial people who struggle to see life beyond our immediate neighbourhood.

That’s why small really can be beautiful.





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