Stephen Glover: David Montgomery's surrender doesn't mean that the press has lost the war

The other day a very senior and successful Fleet Street figure told me that in 15 years there will only be two national newspapers: The Sun and the Daily Mail. All the rest will disappear under a burden of debt, after years of making losses.

Two newspapers! It is the bleakest assessment I have heard. David Montgomery, the chief executive of the pan-European group Mecom, was also in pessimistic mood last week. He described the traditional newspaper business model as "bankrupt, unviable, finished." He also took issue with Rupert Murdoch's assessment of a "malfunctioning" newspaper industry. According to Mr Montgomery, it is much, much worse.

In this argument between doom mongers and optimists Mr Murdoch lies firmly in the second camp. He thinks newspapers have a future, though he has not yet worked out what that future should be. A few months ago he grandly asserted that "newspapers will reach new heights in the 21st century . ... The form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over. Our real business isn't printing on dead trees. It's giving our readers great journalism and great judgment."

Is he right? Some people – Mr Montgomery, I imagine – think that the 78-year-old media tycoon is losing the plot. He recently spoke of charging people to read the websites of his British newspapers, which many think is a no-no when free suppliers such as the BBC predominate. He is perhaps naively enthusiastic about e-books, which he thinks could help struggling newspaper publishers. It is certainly possible – indeed, I have suggested it in the past – that Mr Murdoch is no longer absolutely on top of his game.

And yet when all is said and done he is the most successful newspaperman of modern times, and in a disagreement between him and Mr Montgomery I know whom I instinctively back. Mr Montgomery assembled a newspaper empire in the good times which is now disintegrating in the bad. He really only has one weapon, which is cost-cutting, which he applies again and again. He is about to embark on another round. I should think he knows more about cost-cutting in newspapers than any man alive.

The trouble is he might as well be dealing in pears or machine tools. I wonder whether he has introduced a single significant editorial improvement to any of the newspapers he has bought. (They are published in languages he can scarcely read). If you regard newspapers as mere commodities to be squeezed for cost savings once, twice and then again, it is hardly surprising if you end up like Mr Montgomery, presiding over a crumbling publishing empire whose eventual demise no one will mourn.

Mr Montgomery lacks vision. If you don't have vision, it is very easy to write a media blog, or hold forth in a pub, calmly prophesying the end of newspapers. Mr Murdoch may be a bit fuzzy about the future – who isn't? – but at least he believes there is one. If he can't see beyond the next impasse, or has too little time left to navigate it, there are others out there who can and will. Mr Murdoch's basic insight is right: in a complicated, changing world people will still want good journalism. He just hasn't figured out a way to make it sufficiently profitable in the internet age. Someone else probably will.

Without vision and conviction and hope newspapers will be doomed. That is not to say, though, that cost-cutting is not important. It just depends what kind of cost-cutting you mean. An Australian publisher called Eric Beecher argues in a piece which you can access via his online newspaper Crikey that "a [new] business model is emerging – the idea of reinventing so-called 'broadsheet' newspapers as high quality niche products targeted at narrower audiences who are attractive to advertisers and fundamentally committed to the idea of reading a newspaper." A few years ago Eric and I had a fancy to launch a new low-cost national newspaper, and it is good to see that he has not abandoned the concept.

The point is that many struggling newspapers employ round after round of salami slicing in which cuts are applied across the board. There is no time, or inclination, to sit down and think: what do our core readers value most of all, and what might they be prepared to do without? Everything is cut evenly, so that the paper ends up as a pale, weaker version of its former sense. There is an alternative – to ring-fence, even to improve, what the paper does best, while conceding that it cannot necessarily do everything.

The recovery in display advertising revenue, when it comes, will have only limited impact on loss-making titles. (Incidentally, we should not forget that judgments made during the depths of an advertising recession are bound to be excessively gloomy.) The Times is losing about £50 million a year. The Guardian, which is probably losing not a lot less, unbelievably employs over 800 editorial staff, a few of whom it shares with The Observer. If these papers want to be to be published in 20 years' time, they will have to make substantial, enduring cuts. These can be done the Montgomery way, which is basically destructive and leads to weaker journalism, or the Beecher way, which is creative, and might even give us better newspapers.


A surprising lack of hysteria over Cameron's wisteria

The Daily Telegraph's amazing revelations roll on, and one is occasionally tempted, in Archbishop of Canterbury mode, to wonder whether it is not time to call a halt. But it is surely better for it all to come out.

And yet the paper has undoubtedly been softer on some than others, leading to speculation that secret deals may have been done. Its star columnist Boris Johnson is still spared. Last January The Independent on Sunday questioned Boris' claim for £2,000 in respect of a hotel bill for himself and colleagues, and it is not inconceivable that he has other charges to answer.

No deal was done in the case of the Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, a former political correspondent on the Daily Telegraph. The paper finished off its ex-employee last Thursday with its splash about her £50,000 taxpayer-funded extension to house her brother. Ms Kirkbride served the Conrad Black regime, and could not count on any protection from the existing powers.

One MP who did get very sympathetic treatment was David Cameron – so much so that one wonders whether his spin doctor Andy Coulson was not involved. On 11 May the Telegraph ran a story whose first paragraph Mr Coulson might have approved: "For most of the past five years, Mr Cameron has claimed only for mortgage interest and utility bills on his Oxfordshire constituency cottage." Only in paragraph three was his £680 claim to remove wisteria mentioned in a deadpan way.

And, of course, he owns a country house in Oxfordshire, not a "cottage". If he had been happy with a cottage he would not have had to raise a £350,000 mortgage in 2002, and charge the taxpayer about £1,700 a month. Obligingly, the Telegraph did not question whether it was right for a wealthy man to claim such expenses, or ask why he needs such a grand house.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?