The demise of Johnston Press – publishers of the Yorkshire Evening Post and 200 local newspapers – should have come as a surprise to no-one, writes Dispatch editor John Baron.
The company, struggling in part thanks to a debt it had accrued years ago when it bought a series of titles in Ireland for £96m, went into administration on Friday.
It has since been rescued by what is know as a “pre-pack” sale, whereby the ownership of the company has been transferred to a newly formed company, JPI Media, owned by its bondholders including US hedgefund Goldentree Asset Management.
The deal means short-term security for Johnston Press titles and journalists’ jobs, but the National Union of Journalists have expressed concerns that longer-term stability is still at risk.
Why should this be of concern to people living in West Leeds?
With JP, titles have merged or closed as the company, print runs have dropped, staffing has continued to decline and newspapers became thinner.
Quality suffered as print circulations declined and – coupled with the economic downturn – it’s been difficult to establish a sustainable business model online. It’s been a ‘perfect storm’.
Read lecturer and WLD board member Rebecca Whittington’s insightful analysis of JP’s troubles. Troubles mirrored, it must be said, to lesser degrees by other newspaper companies.
Without a vibrant local press, there’s no-one to hold the powers that be to account.
I’ve never met a councillor who hasn’t recognised the importance the local media plays in ensuring local democracy is alive and well in the community. A reader’s watchdog, it shines a light on council decision-making and accountability.
A good local media is the glue that binds the community together. It connects you to local groups and organisations, celebrates success stories and provides you with important local information.
It’s unthinkable as a society that up to 200 titles across the country could have been lost, leaving a huge vacuum.
And it’s not just ‘big’ media that faces a fight for survival.
West Leeds Dispatch & survival
Community media like the West Leeds Dispatch also needs to find ways to survive.
We’re a social enterprise run entirely by local volunteers, from our board right through to our community contributors. As editor I spend around 24 hours a week voluntarily putting the Dispatch together on top of two demanding part-time (paid) jobs and family life.
Costs for running our community newsletter and website hosting all currently come out of my pocket.
As much as I and the board love doing this (and we do love it!) it can’t continue to be a labour of love. To put it bluntly, it’s just not currently sustainable. It’ll never be a full-time job, but it does need to become at least partly sustainable to avoid burnout.
I’m proud of what we do here at The Dispatch, shining a spotlight on community issues, council decisions and celebrating local groups.
But readers need to understand that this free online commodity called news that they receive takes time, effort and expertise to deliver. I believe it has massive value to our society.
In the new year we’ll be looking at taking some advertising. We’ll also be encouraging readers to make regular voluntary contributions to offset our costs and start to sustain us.
If you value local news – whether it be from the Yorkshire Evening Post or community media like us – you need to support it.
Otherwise, it’ll simply wither and die.