I've just received an email from my old friend Rowland Davies. He used to be the editor of the Aberdare Leader, back in the days when it was a real paper and we made our own typos. It's a forwarded message from the editor of the Pontypridd Observer, Wayne Nowaczyk, but written in his personal capacity. Some people here might find it of interest, so I've copied it in full:
To: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; christopher.williams@Wales.gov.uk; email@example.com
Subject: update redundancy proposals for Celtic editors
I’ve sent the email below to many politicians and contacts and would appreciate it being forwarded to anyone in your contact book you feel might be sympathetic.
The impact of this move is difficult to communicate to the public because they will not know the critical role editors play to prevent these newspapers becoming ad rags that simply carry press releases and minimal news, comment and journalism.
Weeklies in the current environment are at the forefront of community journalism which is done nowhere else.
They are in the bedrock of our democracy, involved at grassroots level with the communities they serve.
We need to emphasise that in a fast changing world, the editors are champions with in depth knowledge of their communities and mentors to young reporters who may spend just a year or so on that title.
Editors are the heart and soul – literally the backbone - of their titles, fighting for local stories and issues regardless of politics or the company line.
Without them, overburdened edition teams (usually max 3 reporters per paper) will be under pressure to simply pursue the path of least resistance – avoid contentious stories/comment that may lead to time consuming rows, rights of reply, the PCC etc – especially when they’re unsure of their ground or the Hub directs them to drop or not pursue a story whereas a seasoned editor will fight their corner.
Valleys communities will lose their distinctive voice – and be allowed only to speak out if Cardiff agrees with the sentiment.
Cardiff has a lamentable record on supporting those communities that made them rich through coal and the suggestion that the Hub will improve coverage when they’ve refused to feed us for two years is frankly facile and disingenuous.
In a nutshell, they argue removing 160 plus hours of expertise per week (previously deemed essential) and requiring the existing overburdened news teams to do the bulk of their editor’s work with each title getting 5.5 hours of support from a visiting assistant head of content will improve consistency, development and enhance coverage.
I doubt they’d find anyone in Ebbw Vale and Aberdare agreeing with the thrust of that argument despite similar assurances being given before those (recently refurbished) offices closed.
If access to all professional media is controlled simply by a central and distant Hub, disempowered underdogs’ complaints won’t be aired as frequently in the weeklies no matter how hard the recession blows.
I'm hoping you and your colleagues will be able to help protect Wales' proud tradition of independent newspapers produced and controlled locally to reflect their neighbourhoods.
Mediawales confirms its seven Celtic titles remain profitable and are not faced with closure, that the compulsory redundancies of four editors by October are not to save cash (total £120k pa) and not because they have under-performed in any way.
Publishing director Alan Edmunds (firstname.lastname@example.org ) says it is his idea - not that of Trinity Mirror - that the titles can be better run and developed by the multimedia hub than their editors with "more consistency" in approach - though they've been unable to clarify what that means and why that isn't possible with the editors in place.
In place of the existing management, the consultation suggests an (existing) Executive Editor will have a strategic overview and a touring assistant head of content (yet to be appointed) will physically visit each office every week to oversee the existing news teams running the edition - an almost impossible job given that seven titles totalling up to 350 pages have to be edited and printed to extremely tight deadlines over just two days.
Inevitably, it will result in a dilution of quality, news agendas will be controlled centrally, decision makers will be less accessible and accountable and control of the media, plurality of news sources, direct involvement with the community - all will diminish and the young teams will be under severe pressure.
Mediawales says the aim is to see the weeklies become more "consistent" with the rest of the company's output in the WMail, Echo and Wales on Sunday whereas, in the past, the Celtics were allowed free reign.
Consequently, time consuming original content is likely to lose out to (quicker to process and less problematic) press releases. The prospect of the titles becoming ad rags was never more real.
Considering that Mediawales closed its Aberdare and Ebbw Vale offices only months after refitting them, the company's assertion that there are no plans to close the Pontypridd, Merthyr and Bridgend offices and move weekly staff to the (empty) floors at their Cardiff HQ gives me little comfort given the trading climate.
This is not simply a threat to four careers but to the role and independence of newspapers that have been serving their communities for 125 years.
The threat to quality local journalism, a bastion of local democracy, has never been greater.
Please feel free to forward this to anyone you feel might be sympathetic.