Monday, December 18, 2006

What's going on?

Not much, the Brannigan case against the OFT still seems to be ongoing, although to be honest I can barely make head nor tale of this latest missive. Can anyone help? There was a brief moment of expectation (for which read running around screaming with joy) in the Osato household with the news the Gannett was looking to flog Newsquest. Sadly the Sexpress story turned out to be bollocks. Not that it would have made a lot of difference per se - it's the UK managers who are the problem, mostly former accountants who understand cost control but wouldn't even read newspapers if they weren't involved in the industry and have no idea how to reinvigorate their products of get the most out of their staff. Newsquest is closing the West End Mail in Glasgow (If it's losing money you can't really blame them). Oh yes and there was a hammer blow to accountability in the regional press when Press Gazette went to the wall. Then it didn't. Thank fuck, although sadly they seem to have scaled down their web efforts, which for those of us out in t'sticks who don't have easy access to a copy, is a bit of a pain. It left us with the horrible prospect of relying on Meeja Guardian (which, Greenslade apart, only takes the mildest of looks at the regions) and the god-awful HoldTheFrontPage, relentlessly sunny, amateurish and patronising. A classic example is their recent survey which showed, amongst other staggering revelations, that barely 30 per cent of the hacks who responded saw their next job being in weekly or daily local newspapers. Their headline? check it out for yourself. The most worrying statistic is the 87 per cent who were 'satisified' or 'very statisfied' with HoldTheBossesCock - which shows just how uninquiring and easily pleased many young hacks are these days

Sunday, November 19, 2006

EXCLUSIVE - OFT could probe Newsquest's activities in Sussex

Thanks to an anonymous tipster Newsquestwatch has learned that the activities of Newsquest's Sussex operation, centred on the Brighton Argus, could be the subject of a probe by a competition watchdog.

This document reveals them story of the Lewes Life and Ucksfield Life, founded by businessman Terry Brannigan in 2003 in an area dominated by The Argus and Johnston's Sussex Express. He alleges Newsquest (in particular) acted againt competition law in the following ways;

(a) the cancellation of the intended print slot for the appellant’s publications (the
appellant having entered into an agreement with Newsquest in January 2003
to use Newsquest print facilities);
(b) the launch by Newsquest of a rival weekly free paper, the Uckfield Leader, to
target the circulation of the Uckfield Life;
(c) the offering of advertising space to the appellant’s customers either free or at
excessively low prices in return for an agreement not to advertise with Mr
Brannigan’s titles;
(d) targeting of the appellant’s means of distribution, in particular by pressurising
local newsagents not to stock the Lewes Life or the Uckfield Life; and
(e) attacking and denigrating the appellant’s reputation.
The appellant also alleges an agreement between Newsquest and Johnston not to compete
against each other in the Lewes and Brighton areas respectively.

Mr Brannigan, who was forced into personal bankrupcy by the failure of his titles, made complaints to the Office of Fair Trading at the time and was told that while 'further enquiries were justified' the OFT had 'insufficient resources' to carry them out.

After years of legal letters the OFT announced earlier this year that it would not be investigating Mr Brannigan's case. However, after an appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal, the OFT was told to take another look at the case. The OFT came back with

the OFT did not consider that the
complaint was an administrative priority for the OFT. The OFT also stated that the grounds
for suspecting an infringement of the Act were weak; that there was no clear evidence that
either Newsquest or Johnston are dominant in any market or that there were agreements
which could have an appreciable effect upon competition. The OFT took the view that much
of the alleged behaviour can be justified as a vigorous competitive response and was of too
short a duration to pose a threat to serious competition,

But Mr Brannigan appealed again, and the tribunal has given him a further 28 days to prepare his case. It could get interesting.

Now, an important caveat here - this is a long way off getting to court. Even if the OFT is forced to investigate, it doesn't exactly sound keen on the case.

But there is a precedent here. Back in July 2001 Northcliffe's Aberdeen division was hit with a £1.3million fine for predatory pricing and attempting to take the rival Aberdeen Independent out of the market.

And there are examples elsewhere in the Gannett empire as well. Over in the states the parent company is no stranger to every trick in the book to force the competition out of town - as detailed in this book by Richard McCord.

The consequences of a monopoly are dreadful. Poor quality local news, no scrutiny of local authorities, inflated prices for advertisers and low wages for hacks. If - and it is a big if - Newsquest or any other publisher is caught taking part in predatory pricing activities the OFT must throw the book at them.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Video killed the etc etc part 2

Second piece came on the UK Press Gazette's AOL sponsored discuss journalism forum and, yes, Mr Osato is well aware that AOL is the work of the devil but it looks like the UKPG needs the cash at the moment, so we'll let them off.

In his post, academic Paul Bradshaw makes a powerful case about the unseemly rush by newspaper groups into the world of video and audio content. To give you a taster:

Trinity's editorial director Neil Benson has been quoted as saying "we're basing the new website design on interactivity".

But making news interactive and putting video online are two different - and contradictory - things.

Video is, if anything, even less interactive than print. You cannot scan-read a video, you cannot skip to the last paragraph, or look for the intriguing subheading.

And with video online, you lose the number one and number two ways that people navigate content - search and links.

What is presented as a rush to online news is becoming a rush to TV news - a form of TV news which just happens to be broadcast on the web. And in that rush, newspapers are in danger of not exploiting the real benefits of the web - giving users control, providing extra information and context that wouldn't fit in a print or video version of the story, creating communities between readers, or a forum for them to express their knowledge and opinions, communicating complex concepts in a way that can't be done with words alone, engaging the reader through innovative formats, or by connecting them directly with interviewees.

Give that man a cigar. It's the concept Mr Osato has been banging away at for years. It's a newspaper group. It's journalists are good at writing or taking still photographs. They're not (with some excpetiobs) broadcasters or VT operators. The skills are different, the needs are different and, for years, newspapers been failing utterly to make the most of what they already do by doing it better on the web.

There is nothing wrong with video journalism online per se. I'm sure the BBC's ultra-local services will be a hit when they happen because they'll be properly funded. I'm sure that newspaper groups, subject to getting their fingers out of their backsides and realising that this kind of thing needs investment and originl thinking, could produce a worthwhile alternative, an ITV, if you like, to the BBC's, well, BBC.

And, while Bradshaw is right to state that today's young are moving away from TV news, they ARE loving video sharing sites like Youtube (no, they're not paying me - yet). In some ways that's a better comparison with the short, snappy reports produced by an online news service rather than a TV company with a background in filling a half hour broadcast.

So, down the line, with real money behind it, the world of video journalism can be a success. But don't ruin one (already declining) product by attempting to shunt another, completely alien discipline into an already overstretched newsroom.

Video Killed the newspaper group

Two articles appear on the same day which, read together, perfectly illustrate the aimlessness of the current Newsquest leadership.

Firstly, we see Newsquest editorial Obergruppenführer Margaret Strayton claim that the firm is 'leading the way' in the world of video journalism.

Hmm, where do we start?

For one thing, Strayt jacket, taking a rare break from her usual role, which involves trying to make even the group's most inept editors look mildly useful by comparison, to trot out the usual line: "We have accepted that multi-media, embracing all distribution vehicles for our journalism – print, digital, video, podcasts, mobile phones - is where the future lies."

We'll come on to the substance of that claim later, but let's look at the facts.

Apparently all 14 'publishing centres' are now on line. So why, when I visit the website for my local newspaper, is ther neither site nor sound of any kind of video? There isn't even a blog. Could it be that, far from the comprehensive video footage Strayton claims Newsquest is actually just handing 14 video cameras around its 14 centres and made a few wild claims because it sees others doing much better? Keeping up with the Jones? You decide, but consider this, if the multimedia efforts really are something to be proud of wouldn't you be shouting from the rooftops rather than introducing them 'quietly?'

As for the quality, I'll leave that for you to judge. They don't seem to be configured for Firefoz and Internet Explorer makes Mr Osato's computer do bad things. Had a quick look at one at work and it was pretty dire - teenagers on Youtube do better every day, although in fairness it was a one-off and by no means a represenative sample.

And they might improve, with a bit of training, although every minute spent with video camera in hand is a minute lost from the parent newspaper. Chances are you end up with two poor products. If you're serious about 'growing the business' down multimedia lines why not spend some money and hire professionals?

All of a sudden this has turned into a long post (or a rant, depending on your point of view). I'll post on the second article later.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Taking the low road

Happy news reaches Newsquestwatch from north of the border where staff at Newsquest's Herald Group are balloting for strike action.

You may remembers the original fuss when this sleight of hand was attempted in England.

Strangely, those of us down here distinctly remember being told that the reason for the pay date change was that some Newsquest centres - specifically those in Scotland - paid later and it really wouldn't be right for them to carry on treating their staff fairly.

Word reaches us that some managers in England were less than happy with the changes, not least because they had to pay their mortgages as well - not to mention the fact that they had some unhappy staff on their hands anyway because of the latest round of cuts.

Pity none of them have the courage of their convictions, unlike the management of Los Angeles Times. Could you imagine British newspaper bosses and editors throwing that kind of fire at the people running their industry? Unfortunately that is what's needed - we'll see if it's forthcoming. (via the inimitable Roy Greensalde)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Enquiring no more

Sadly, news reaches Newsquestwatch that the North West Enquirer has gone pop.

A pity - and not just for the people who worked there.

The Enquirer was always full of informative, well researched pieces, especially on politics and business - two of the things the 'mainstream' local press is abandoning in its descent into trivia.

The in depth stuff from BBC north west political editor, Jim Hancock, was top class and I enjoyed some of its profiles on regional business types as well.

Unfortunately what it didn't have enough of was 'essential' news - the stuff that makes you sit up and wonder what the implications are for your own community. That's probably why I gave up on buying it and tended to use the excellent website instead.

Perhaps one of its mistake was recruiting too many staff with a background in daily newspapers? Another problem was that today's ABs tend to be 'cash rich/traffic poor' and, while I'm sure plenty flirted with the Enquirer, stopping off every Thursday to buy a copy isn't practical for everyone. Perhaps that website should have been promoted more in its own right - perhaps it even has a future as a stand-alone?

Most of all I'm not convinced that the north west's regional identity is as strong as some would have us believe?

So what are the implications for the rest of the local press? There aren't many, the Enquirer was trying to reinvent the wheel and do something different for England. The local monopolies will continue to grind money out of their local communities and there will still be plenty of room for smaller, slicker, more reactive rivals to emerge.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A new start

Welcome back - Newsquest Watch returns...sadly without our former editor.

Unfortunately he was shot in a Hong Kong hotel room, a terrible accident for which the local police have profusely apologised.

He was buried at sea.

So, greetings again and let the Newsquest baiting recommence

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Let's play every newspaper exec's favourite game!


First produced by Parker Brothers in 1935, the game without an end has been a family favourite ever since.

Unfortunately the version of the game played by Britain's regional newspaper publishers isn't so much fun, for staff, advertisers and readers alike.

And it looks like someone at Newsquest Towers in South London has decided they can complete a colour group by doing a swap with East Anglian based firm Archant.

The errant email originated from the headquarters of Archant (bear with them, they've only just got electricity in Norfolk) and seems to indicate that the company which already owns the Easetern Daily Press, East Anglian Daily Times and daily papers in Ipswich and Norwich fancies spreading into Essex, taking over an evening paper and several weekly papers which go head to head with some of its own titles - plenty of opportunity to cut back!

Meanwhile Newsquest could take on a series of papers which it currently competes with in and around Somerset - more cutbacks and Pims all round in the boardroom (although our management are all so presbyterian it'll probably be mineral water).

Expect it to go quiet for a while, but the idea is just too obvious to go away completely. After all, the greed of these people knows no end - you just wander what other cosy little deals are being cooked up around the country?

And the losers keep on losing - isn't it about time they were packed off to jail (without passing Go or collecting £200 million?)

Monday, June 12, 2006

To our new friends

Professor Roy Greenslade and the Press Gazette's Martin Sable both give Newsquest Watch a mention - not bad for a morning's work. I wonder what they'll make of this enigmatic effort which appeared a couple of weeks ago? Hopefully the former Newsquest manager in question isn't going to get cold feet about the excercise. There is a story here that needs telling and it sounds like Mr eX might have a little less to lose than this 'mysterious' writer!

Mourning Edition

For our next trick, says the Newsquest manager, we're going to make all of our evening newspapers vanish - and replace them with brand, spanking new, morning papers!

Evening newspaper sales have been declining for the last 40 years as the public have discovered the radio, tv and now this thing called the internet, he drones. So what we're going to do is put all of our papers on sale at the time everyone is going to work. Because they will have, what we call, a longer shelf life, hopefully more people will read them nd circulation will pick up!

He, and it is usually a he, chuckles at his own villainy. Of course we're relying on the idiots - sorry, valued readers - who currently buy the paper (sent to press at 8.30 in the morning) thinking it contains today's news - to carry on buying it - after all, it's not like they've got any alternative...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Up Yours-ski!

The Kremlin should be the perfect place for Newsquest managers to hang out - after all, they combine the worst tendencies of the Tsars, pilfering from the serfs while keeping them in poverty, with the outrageous back-stabbing of previously loyal underlings for which the leaders of the USSR were associated.

But even in the cloistered environs of the World Newspaper Congress in Moscow, it looks like Newsquest's top brass can't bet away from the bain of the lives - those pesky journalists.

Witness this exchange from The Guardian's Media Monkey diary, reproduced below:

So much for glasnost
One final anecdote from the World Newspaper Congress in Moscow to demonstrate that the desire for secrecy and state control of the media is alive and kicking in, er, the UK. During lunch in the Kremlin State Palace, Monkey tried and failed to strike up a conversation with a neighbouring British newspaper executive. When asked over the entr ée for his views on regional newspapers turning into freesheets, Paul Hunter, finance director of the Newsquest Media Group, responded: "I don't give interviews." How very Soviet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Welcome to this new website which is devoted to keeping a firm, journalistic eye on the affairs of Newsquest Ltd. I am a concerned individual based in the UK with considerable knowledge of this firm, which is part of Gannett. I believe that any business which plays such a vital role in communities up and down the country should be accountable. We'll highlight the profits they make, their employment practices and the way they have cut back on local newsgathering in the name of greed.

Please feel free to post your comments on our coverage at the link below, as well as your own experiences of England's biggest newspaper publisher, at the link below.