Editor Maggie may go….but newsrooms need leaders more than ever

The scene was set in the not hugely subtle location of a graveyard.

Together they sat on a bench: the parish vicar….and the editor of the local paper.

Both feeling surplus to requirements. Both in need of greater community support.

It was very much a sideshow to the main business of the latest series of the wonderful ITV drama Broadchurch last night.

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But to me – and plenty of other journalists on Twitter – it was a fascinating little mini sub-plot.

I’ve written before about my admiration for Broadchurch Echo editor Maggie Radcliffe.

That was in the days when she had staff. Now there’s just her – and she’s about to lose her office and be forced to work from a regional HQ.

So it was, fresh from a showdown with the boss who had replaced her splash about a controversial planning application with a cliched one about cats, the tireless Maggie found herself comparing notes with the Rev Paul Coates.

As they both bemoaned their community’s blasé, fair (or, more accurately, bad) weather attitude to their respective services, Maggie’s dedication to protecting public-spirited journalism struck a chord with plenty of real hacks up and down the country.

And there was particular interest over the border from Dorset in Devon, where there’s been a changing of the guard in my home county’s Trinity Mirror newsrooms.

There, the journalist who taught me more about news-editing than anyone else, the indefatigable Jim Parker, is now in charge of four weekly newspapers that only a couple of years ago had their own editors.

At the same time, another journalist for whom I have great admiration, Patrick Phelvin, now presides over a giant single website covering the whole of the sprawling county of Devon apart from Plymouth.

It’s only a couple of weeks since another shake-up by Trinity Mirror axed the editor of the Grimsby Telegraph and its sister title in Scunthorpe, as well as the editor of the Lincolnshire Echo.

As departing Telegraph editor Michelle Lalor says, this leaves a leadership vacuum in some big communities.

It’s not just Trinity Mirror: Newsquest has also merged plenty of editors’ roles in recent years, although it is to be hoped that the latest partial abandonment of its soulless subbing hubs might signal an upsurge in local self-determination.

If there are real deputies left to lead newsrooms and champion the needs of their towns and cities, there may be an argument to be made for sacrificing the salaries of big earners rather than the troops on the ground.

But newsrooms without supportive, energetic, eyeball-to-eyeball leadership will serve up anaemic, one-size-fits-all, hollowed-out products that avoid the risk-taking and occasional unpopularity that are the hallmarks of the very best journalism.

It looks to me as if Maggie Radcliffe will join the long line of real editors who quit rather than go along with cutbacks that cross a line of conscience.

But if she puts up a fight, there’ll be plenty of us cheering from the sofa sidelines.

 

 

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