Friday, May 08, 2009

Don't believe everything you hear!

The local state-funded radio station in Leicester has been on the phone again wanting to run stories saying that the end is nigh, the Mercury is moving out of Leicester and we've taken the first steps towards becoming a regional newspaper published in Nottingham but covering Nottingham, Leicester and Derby.

It's all drivel.

There are no plans to move out of Leicester. Full stop.

Everybody who creates the Leicester Mercury is here in our office in George Street or in one of our district offices around the county. That is all the writers (news, sport and features), the photographers, the editorial managers who make decisions and, of course, me. The news editor, the picture editor, the sports editor - they're all in Leicester. The main page designer is in Leicester. We decide what we are covering, how we will cover it, who will cover it and what it will look like here in Leicester. Once all of that is done and the pages are produced, we proof read those pages here in Leicester.

So what's all the fuss?

Well, in common with lots of businesses, we are finding it tough in the current economic downturn and we've been looking at ways of producing better papers with fewer costs. We looked hard to see which parts of the process don't affect the outcome of the paper and decided that actually putting the completed articles and photographs on to the pages and adding headlines could probably be done more effeciently (ie we could do more with fewer people) if we pooled our resources across more than one newspaper. This is because our papers have different deadlines and the work flows at different rates.

So we took that part of our work out of our three newspapers in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester and put it into a central pool ... which happens to be based in Nottingham. It could just as easily have been in Leicester or Derby, but Nottingham is slightly more central for staff moving into the new set-up.

The real problem for us is that we call that part of our work 'production' which allows the likes of BBC Radio Leicester, funded by the taxpayer and unaffected by the downturn, to say we have moved the production of the Leicester Mercury to Nottingham or, worse still, that the Leicester Mercury is now produced in Nottingham.

Neither statement is true - we have moved a small part of the back end production to Nottingham. The vast majority of our journalists are unaffected by the changes and remain here in Leicester or in one of our district offices.

Incidentally, after these changes we still have six or seven times as many journalists in Leicester than any radio station - we still cover dozens of stories every day that never get anywhere near the radio and we still have complete control over our content ... unlike our state-controlled friends.

I sat in a meeting recently with a number of community leaders from Leicester. The discussion got round to coverage of the upcoming European and local elections.

Somebody asked whether the local media would give space to the BNP during their election coverage. Radio Leicester said they would - they had no choice. It doesn't matter what the local managers think, they are given their rules of engagement centrally.

For the Leicester Mercury, on the other hand, this is a local decision. I first worked for the parent company way back in the 1970s and I have never been instructed by anyone about how we should cover politics and whether or not we should give coverage to the various extreme parties - I'd go further than that and say that I have never been given guidance or had anyone even discuss it with me.

Will we give coverage to the BNP? I haven't decided yet, but going on my past decisions, it's unlikely. The point I am making, however, is that this is a local decision - at the Leicester Mercury, we'll make the decision that is best for the newspaper and for the city, and they are usually the same thing.

Of course, it also means that if you don't like the decision, you know who to tell!


  1. Even though I had heard some of this from Martin it is interesting, as well as reassuring to hear this direct from the editor.

  2. Thanks ... although I daren't ask what you are doing reading my blog at 4.54am! There is definitely an issue with the way this has been presented, particularly it seems to me, to Leicester's establishment where, judging by some of the letters I received, there is a belief that we're abandoning Leicester!

  3. In case any of my group are under any misunderstanding I will clarify it for them at the next group meeting.

    I think some don't understand the role of a sub-editor.


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