We journalists do like a bit of extreme weather.
Perhaps not as extreme as Hurricane Irma, and certainly we don’t want to see death and destruction.
But the threat of blizzards, floods and high winds can galvanise a newsroom, satisfying the heart with the warm glow of public service journalism and the head with soaring web figures.
Having said that, I always wanted there to be a bit of longevity to my weather crises.
A few years ago, we had a one-day snowstorm. For around 24 hours, there was the sort of mild havoc that turns Britain into a nation of hyperbole and mess when Mother Nature departs from the norm.
And the next day, it was over. Gone, forgotten, move along there’s nothing to see.
Which as a weekly news editor with a default setting of exasperated grumpiness, I found hard.
For a day, I’d thrown my admittedly fairly meagre newsroom resources at our website, reflecting the overwhelming priority of the day for our audience.
But that meant a day of doing nothing to fill the yawning chasms of the print product.
By the time the paper came out, my one-day White Hell was nothing more than a melted snowflake, barely worth even a piece of down page fill.
That was a few years ago, and the situation would be even starker now, with far higher web targets, and possibly even fewer reporters.
But there’s a man with a plan to square this ever-decreasing circle.
Step forward Marc Reeves, editor of the Birmingham Mail and its website, Birmingham Live.
He has unveiled a vision for his newsroom that sees that website stand on its own two rapidly-moving feet.
There will be a team of journalists who will be solely writing for Birmingham Live.
And here we are….
As Marc acknowledges in his vision – and that weblink above is well worth clicking through to, once you’ve finished here – print still provides the majority of the cash flowing into Trinity Mirror’s coffers.
So we’ve been in the slightly mad situation of throwing the kitchen sink at a product which no one pays for, and which has generated relatively small income, to the neglect of the one which has been paying the bills through advertising and print sales.
But as Marc rightly says, we are living on borrowed time.
Digital income is rising. But the angle of that rise is still not as steep as that of the print income decline.
We’ve already lost some big name titles this year, with the Oldham Evening Chronicle the most shocking closure. Dozens more print products are staring down the barrel of double digit decline with only the default setting of self-destructive price rises in the owners’ armoury.
If I understand him rightly, Marc’s solution to this is to reimagine his newsroom as if it is funded only by digital revenue streams.
This will be a newsroom without cross-subsidy from print, and one not beholden to what leaders at Trinity Mirror’s predecessor Local World used to describe as ‘the tyranny of print’.
There will still be people working on print, although for the most part they’ll be designers and those ‘filling in the gaps’. I’m sure some love will still be going into the version of the Mail you can actually fold up, but – in the absence of the sort of premium, added value journalism that powers subscription models such as The Times – I can’t see much that’s going to win new print business.
The announcement of the new lean, mean Brummie news machine has ended up in a bit of an inadvertent diary clash with the revelation that Trinity Mirror wants to spend £130 million on buying the Express and Star titles.
Undoubtedly, Trinity Mirror will say the funding of such a deal is very different to the economies of its day to day regional newsroom operations.
But, to workers such as Ex-sports hack, those £130 million still have the Queen’s head on them in the same way as the extra few quid that could be in his or her bank account do.
It’s clear to me that dividend-hungry shareholders and historic loans will almost always be a hurdle in the way of imaginatively-funded journalism.
But that’s a debate for another time.
What’s difficult about Marc’s plan is that it involves job losses. He’s trying to produce more news, better news, with fewer people.
That prospect still fills me with a degree of horror and disdain.
But there’s an honesty to his vision that I admire.
And I am hugely encouraged by his decision to involve the American organisation Hearken in work to ensure readers feel genuinely engaged.
It’s not often that interesting, refreshing, and logical ideas come along in regional journalism.
I saw Marc speak a year ago and I liked the cut of his jib.
Having read his words, I like that jib still more.
I wish him luck.