In what could be seen as a sign of things to come at its clutch of Scottish newspapers, JPIMedia, one of the UK's biggest newspaper groups and currently up for sale, has moved at least four newsroom managers into reporting roles. The moves are part of a restructure of its North Midlands and South Yorkshire (NMSY) division following an earlier pilot project at its north-east England titles. Although no jobs have been lost, it is understood that at least four managers who unsuccessfully applied for equivalent roles in the new set-up have been invited to apply for reporter roles instead.
Media industry website, HoldTheFrontPage, has revealed that this strategy is an integral part of the company's 'Digital Acceleration' project which sees journalists move away from the print production process to concentrate on digital work. Discussions are already underway at the NMSY region and chief executive David King has declared that the new structure will be rolled out across other regions, although the company has declined to reveal further details on where and when it will next be introduced.
In a message to staff, King said: 'I am pleased to announce that following the great results we have seen in the north-east during the pilot, we are now ready to start the next step in the deployment of Digital Acceleration
across JPIMedia. The focus has been on understanding and delivering content that our most loyal users want and it is paying off. Engagement with our content has improved significantly with page views per post up 20%. We also grew our loyal audience by 17% over the 90-day pilot. This also positions us well to grow revenues from subscriptions as we deploy paywalls across our larger titles. Print remains an important part of our business and the pilot. The digital-first approach to content creation has not affected print circulation. We will start talking to our teams about the deployment across the NMSY region with other regions to follow. We will be communicating more details about that in due course'.
A spokesman added: 'As part of our Digital Acceleration
programme, we are in the process of introducing new roles to reflect a radically new way of running our newsrooms that has been tested successfully in our north-east region. The new newsroom structure allows our journalists at all levels to focus more on digital storytelling and develop new skills essential to help transform our business'.
JPIMedia was created in 2018 when it took over the assets of Johnston Press following the sale of that company to its creditors. It currently owns about 200 titles in the UK including The Scotsman
, Scotland on Sunday
and Edinburgh's Evening News
, the Yorkshire Post
, the Falkirk Herald
, the Arbroath Herald
, Ellon Times
, Galloway Gazette
, the Motherwell Times
and around another 15 titles in Scotland, including weekly newspapers ranging from Stornoway to Berwick. It also owns 22 titles in Northern Ireland.
According to Wikipedia, Johnston Press, founded away back in 1769, announced last year that all its titles had been transferred to the control of JPIMedia, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) owned by the creditors. Under the terms of the pre-packaged deal, ownership passed to a consortium of four lenders – CarVal, Fidelity, Benefit Street Partners and Goldentree Asset Management – who reduced its debts to £85m and injected £35m investment. This, however, was subject to criticism by Johnston Press's largest shareholder, described as 'blatant pre-planned corporate theft by bondholders' and was raised in Parliament. Goldentree appointed bankers at Stella EOC to lay the groundwork for a potential sale of part, or all, of the business.
East Lothian Council (ELC) wants the Scottish Government to sanction the introduction of new charges for journalists submitting Freedom of Information (FoI) requests – claiming the current system is 'diverting' its officers from their other duties. ELC also say that taxpayers are effectively subsidising the costs of FoI requests and that it would be 'fairer' if those who want the information pay for the time taken to produce it. Last year, the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) rapped ELC over its failure to respond to FoI requests within the time limit set.
In a submission to the Scottish Government post-legislative scrutiny committee, the council said that the burden on already stretched resources can be 'overwhelming', although it acknowledged that the legislation 'provides a means of holding public bodies to account to ensure that they act in the public interest'. However, it added: 'Some applicants use this as a free research facility for their own personal or financial advantage, eg: journalists, solicitors, businesses and students'.
The council has requested that if the committee decides not to remove the current threshold, which only charges if the cost of an FoI is above £100, it should consider reducing the threshold for media requests or commercial operators. Last year it dealt with 1,250 FoI requests, but only 35% were answered within the 20 working-day timescale. It said 44% of requests were from the public, 24% from businesses and 14% from the media. This year, the council says it has dealt with 1,143 enquiries already – estimating a total cost of £70,562, with the average cost of a single enquiry at £61.73.
In a submission, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) raised concerns that the media were subject to unjustifiable delays as highlighted in a recent report by the SIC. The NUJ said: 'In seeking FoI requests, journalists are acting on behalf of the public and should not be treated as second-class citizens'.
Last week, I quoted Graham Morrison, MD of Newsquest Scotland, on the 'excellent performances of The National
and Sunday National
across print and digital, which has delivered year-on-year growth in sales, subscriptions and online traffic, which is nothing short of remarkable and unequalled across the industry'. I didn't have these figures but The National's
editor Callum Baird has kindly supplied them. The print-only daily sales in the year-to-date are averaging out at 6,912 – marginally up on 2018. However, digital subscribers have risen from around 4,500 last year to 7,012 this year, which brings the total of paying readers to just under 14,000. The traffic in September was 2.1 million article page views – up 52% on last year.
Belatedly, I report on the death of Deborah Orr from breast cancer, aged 57, a former Guardian Weekend
editor. Deborah, who is remembered by friends and colleagues as 'one of the cleverest, most unconventional, most fearless people', was born in Motherwell and joined The Guardian
in 1990 – becoming the first female editor of Weekend
magazine before she was 30. She wrote for the Independent
from 1999 until 2009 before returning to The Guardian
as a columnist for almost a decade, then joining the i newspaper in 2018.
Penny Martin, editor of The Gentlewoman
magazine, to which Orr contributed, recalls her formidable reputation: 'There are some wild stories about her fierce invective and withering put-downs. But she was enormously encouraging to this young, less experienced Scottish editor. She's surely one of the funniest, cleverest journalists I've met; a total force and a great dancer, as I remember'.
Deborah's first book, a memoir entitled Motherwell
, will be published early next year. It is a tribute to her home town and her tangled relationship with her mother. A Bookseller
review noted: 'Her scalpel is at its sharpest when she turns it on herself; on her foibles, and on her poor choices. For example, though still proudly working class, she is also quick to slice through her own inverted snobbery: she wrote: "The more humble my beginnings, the more I appeared to have achieved. I emphasised my lowly parents to feel prouder of myself"'.
A commitment to her profession was especially evidenced in the play, Enquirer
, an exploration of the newspaper industry through the real life testimony of 43 journalists, which she co-created for the National Theatre of Scotland in 2012. She was separated from the novelist Will Self, and is survived by her sons Ivan and Luther and two stepchildren.
I promised to bring you a weekly excerpt from the late Kenneth Roy's book: In Case of Any News: A Diary of Living and Dying
– all 49,000 words over 190 pages hewn in four weeks as he lay dying of virulent stomach cancer in the University Hospital, Ayr.
Kenneth, the founder of Scottish Review
, wrote (on page 120, just 18 days before he died): 'I see that this book exceeds 30,000 words. I wouldn't have believed it possible. Fiona [a colleague] asked an interesting question last night. She was curious to know if, assuming I had the time, I'd go back to the start and do the usual editing and fact-checking. I wouldn't. Couldn't. The pain of revisiting certain days, scenes, experiences would be intolerable. The thing must stand on its own, forever imperfect, dashed off like an overnight review from the Glasgow Pavilion when the final curtain hasn't quite fallen'.