Stephen Glover: The Guardian can't feed this many mouths
Media Studies: Alan Rusbridger has garnered more commercial power than he is qualified to wield
Monday 06 June 2011
There was splendidly hand-wringing article in The Guardian last week by Chris Elliott, its so-called "readers' editor". He agonised about whether there were too many Oxbridge-educated journalists working for the paper. On the whole his verdict seemed to be that there weren't. But in the course of what seemed a rather pointless discussion Mr Elliott did disclose one fascinating fact, though he was seemingly unaware of its significance. He wrote that the paper and its sister paper The Observer employed 630 journalists print and online.
There was splendidly hand-wringing article in The Guardian last week by Chris Elliott, its so-called “readers’ editor”. He agonised about whether there are too many Oxbridge-educated journalists working for the paper. On the whole his verdict seemed to be that there weren’t.
But in the course of what seemed a rather pointless discussion Mr Elliott did disclose one fascinating fact, though he was seemingly unaware of its significance. He wrote that The Guardian and its sister paper The Observer employ 630 journalists print and online.
For non-journalists, and perhaps for some journalists, this may seem a rather meaningless figure. It only makes any kind of sense if we compare the editorial headcount of 630 with those of rival publishers which also have websites and a Sunday operation. In comparison with every competitor, The Guardian and Observer employ more journalists.
The Independent, its Sunday sister and it spin-off i have around180 journalists. The Daily and Sunday Telegraph have some 500 editorial staff. The Times and Sunday Times will not give me an official headcount, but I am told it is fewer than 600. All these figures include those working on websites. It might be objected that we are not exactly comparing like with like – for example, The Guardian has a big online operation. But these publishers run broadly comparable businesses, and there is no escaping the fact that The Guardian is feeding more mouths.
The figures only have proper significance if we look at the profitability of these publishers. The Telegraph Media Group is the only one making money. The Times titles and The Guardian/Observer/guardian.co.uk are vying with each other to turn in the greatest losses. The latter group, formally known as Guardian News and Media, lost £34.4 million in the year to the end of March 2010, and £33.7 million over the previous 12 months. It is due to report its most recent figures within the next few weeks.
What they will show I don’t know. Improved advertising last year combined with some cost cutting – the editorial headcount was over 800 two years ago –may well have reduced losses. On the other hand, the outlook for advertising has recently deteriorated, as I wrote last week, while The Guardian’s sales have declined by nine per cent over the past 12 months. Guardian News and Media is a chronically loss-making company facing depressed economic conditions which nonetheless continues to employ more journalists – and, I would guess, more non-journalists – than any of its rivals.
My object, needless to say, is not to deprive anyone working for Guardian News and Media of a job. It would be wonderful if they could all remain employed. But unfortunately the company cannot go on pretending it exists in a universe of its own. Over the past few years it has made a series of poor commercial calls, of which the decision to invest £100 million in new presses (which are now vastly underworked) was perhaps the most egregious, though the move to swanky new offices came a close second. Its slowness in cutting costs further in the light of worsening trading conditions may serve in the end to make the pain worse than it would have otherwise been.
What Guardian News and Media does have, of course, is substantial, though inevitably dwindling, investments vested in its parent, the Guardian Media Group. But these will not last forever. Moreover, they have given the company’s management a false sense of security. Guardian News and Media does not seem to understand that it is fighting for its life.
Its editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has garnered more commercial power than he is qualified to wield, presiding serenely over the boom years and, though gloomy about the future of print, slow to understand the impact of the downturn. Who can make him understand that the party is over, and will never start up again? It is practically lunatic that the Telegraph Media Group, which reported profits of £58.9 million last year, should employ 130 fewer journalists than the seriously loss-making Guardian News and Media.
Favouritism over the family album
Some newspapers are upset with No 10 over pictures which appeared eight days ago in The News of the World. The main one showed “Dave the Rave”, as the paper affectionately called him, sitting on a yellow pedallo while taking a “budget break” in Ibiza. There were also smaller photos of the Prime Minster holding his wife’s hand, of Cam with “baby Florence”, so on. The Cameron family must have been pleased with this show.
And yet, after a request from No 10, the Press Complaints Commission had asked newspapers not to use any pictures of the holiday. The News of the World went straight to No 10 and got an exemption, giving rivals the impression, right or wrong, that Murdoch titles receive preferential treatment.
Times eyes the Prince of Darkness
I am still musing over an extraordinary second leader in The Times warmly recommending that Peter Mandelson be appointed the next Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. According to the paper, the former Labour cabinet minister and fixer is misjudged, misunderstood, and a fine and highly competent man.
What had Lord Mandelson done to deserve this amazing encomium? Some say he is very chummy with the paper’s editor, James Harding. Others see the hand of the City PR magnifico Roland Rudd, a close friend of both men, and even suggest The Times was smoothing Mr Rudd’s feathers after an aggressive piece about the mining conglomerate Glencore, which he represents. These are shark-infested waters, and I shall welcome any further enlightenment.
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