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Preview: Newsquest watch

Newsquest watch

Keeping an eye on the company that provides your local news

Updated: 2014-10-01T08:10:52.467+01:00


Newsquest jumps the shark


It's difficult to pin down the exact moment when Newsquest lost its last remaining shred of credibility as a 'local' newspaper company. Think outsourcing local work to India probably clinched it. This is a 'local' newspaper company that doesn't think supporting its local communities is important. Its senior management don't give a toss, its regional management lacks the intelligence, foresight, will or means to challenge the bosses. The majority of the workers just grin and bear it or up and leave.

Which, ultimately, is what I did a good couple of years ago now. And therein lies the reason I'll no longer be posting to this blog (not that I have done for some time now). Newsquest isn't the only company letting its local communities down through cutbacks and greed. It isn't the only company whose leaders lack the foresight and intelligence to abandon the old 'cut costs and hope for the best' business model and take advantages of the new opportunities the internet presents. In fact recent events at Trinity Mirror suggest it's no longer the worst - although has a Newsquest manager ever had the decency Birmingham Mail editor Steve Dyson had, in explaining directly to readers what his company is doing and why? His comments/excuses are laughable, but he deserves credit for at least making them.

I'll still be commenting, hopefully a good deal more often, over on my other blog. If you want more cerebral comment on Newsquest's parent company Gannett, try here. For general media stuff, not all of it I agree with, try Greenslade, Press Gazette (especially the Grey Cardigan). For local newspaper news (including a few too many happy clappy stories and a dismal approach to style) try Holdthefrontpage. How-Do is good for north west stuff as well.

I can be contacted by email ( - and fully concur with these comments from the BBC's chairman

More blogging about the evil empire


Gannett Blog is a good read, a bit more cerbral than Newsquestwatch with plenty of big words and market analysis of the sort that I've not got the time (or, likely, the brains) to do. They've linked to me so I'll link to them! Possibly even more interesting is the Slog of the Gannetoids - plenty of tales on there that Newsquest hacks will be able to relate to I'm sure!

More action on Newsquest


As you may have read elsewhere, Terry Brannigan's brave attempt to get the authorities to take some action against Newsquest over its actions in drowning out his newspapers in Sussex. He's now set up his own website fighting the evil empire. As blogging has been light lately (and is, I'm afraid, likely to remain so due to work commitments) I commend his site as a place to learn more about the operations of a firm which doesn't give a toss about its employees, its customers or the communities it supposedly serves. Take a look at it.

Do they have no shame?


Newsquest has, apparently, decided to pilfer employees' retirement income in order to benefit US shareholders. No surprise. They stopped the final salary scheme for new staff last year as well. The fact is Newsquest would barely notice a £65 m bump - but unfortunately that doesn't compute with the penpushers.

Let's hope staff nationally follow those in Glasgow along the lines of industrial action. Perhaps, with the changing political climate in Scotland, the parliament could get involved? Surely the SNP's standing could only be boosted by a fight with some foreign profiteers?

Please be sure to sign the NUJ petition on Newsquest's activities as well

Incidentally, by far the least surprising aspect of the Greenslade piece above is that group editorial manager/'PR' flunky/scapegoat Margaret Strayton doesn't have the decency to give a timely response to a 'fellow' journalist. Getting rid of this fat waste of space would be a great way of saving some cash. Her and a good few others.

Hark the Herald angels sink


Of all Newsquest's ill-starred deicisions in recent years, plunging into the wacky world of the Scottish media is, potentially at least, the most disastrous.

They tried a cost-cutting drive after buying the Glasgow Herald which, hilariously, resulted in them giving a pay-off to national award winner who subsequently ended up at The Times.

Now - after a not entirely unpredictable slump in sales, they're asking for tips on how to make another £3 million in savings. When even Newsquest bosses run out of asset-stripping ideas, you know they're in trouble. Get those for sale signs up before it's too late!

Email me, please!


Finally got a blog-friendly email address (eg suitably anonymous)

get in touch!

Top class investigative reporting on Newsquest website!


So, a local authority with its eyes on a major development scheme sets up a 'steering group' of local worthies, including a senior representative of a major local business, to look into options for an improved concert hall.

The group then reports back to the local authority strongly backing a development which will lead to the acquisition of a major property - owned, interestingly enough, by the very company of which the panel member is an official!

A nice little earner for the firm as £4m is earmarked for the purchase - but it stinks and the public has a right to know all the details.

So well done to the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford for allowing visitors to its website to learn the facts of the case. But there the praise ends, because there's a sting in this particular tale...

...The company is, of course, Newsquest, the senior offical is T&A editor Perry Austin-Clarke and the investigator is a poster on their website forum and local blogger who, fortunately, has documents which appear to demonstrate the facts of the case - always a help.

Of course there's nothing illegal here, but I can't help but recalling what Charles Kennedy, amongst others, called the Private Eye test for probity in public life;

"If it appeared in Private Eye, would you be embarrassed by it? If so, you should not be doing it in the first place."

Replace Private Eye with the front page of his own newspaper and I wonder what Mr Austin-Clarke (who I actually have some time for, although his staff detest him) would say to that.

And what are Newsquest/Gannett going to do with their haul? Are they going to reinvest it or are they going to pilfer £4 million in public cash from a deprived community and hand it over to wealthy shareholders in the USA? Now that's a scandal...

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

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 (theappellant having entered into an agreement with Newsquest in January 2003to use Newsquest print facilities);(b) the launch by Newsquest of a rival weekly free paper, the Uckfield Leader, totarget the circulation of the Uckfield Life;(c) the offering of advertising space to the appellant’s customers either free or atexcessively low prices in return for an agreement not to advertise with MrBrannigan’s titles;(d) targeting of the appellant’s means of distribution, in particular by pressurisinglocal 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 competeagainst 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 withthe OFT did not consider that thecomplaint was an administrative priority for the OFT. The OFT also stated that the groundsfor suspecting an infringement of the Act were weak; that there was no clear evidence thateither Newsquest or Johnston are dominant in any market or that there were agreementswhich could have an appreciable effect upon competition. The OFT took the view that muchof the alleged behaviour can be justified as a vigorous competitive response and was of tooshort 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.[...]

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.

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)

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.

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

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?)

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...

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.



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.