Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The very definition of optimism ...

Newsrooms have always been a place where gallows humour flourished. I admit I even enjoy - much to my wife's disgust - disaster jokes. I've always assumed it was a sub-conscious coping technique because we spend so much time looking at tragedy.

So perhaps it wasn't that surprising that on a trip to the House of Commons on Monday to listen to Peter Mandelson - that's the Right Honourable Lord Peter Mandelson to you and me - the thing that most stuck in my mind was a gag told by another journalist, rather than anything that came from the lips of the First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Lord President of the Council ...

Whatever you think of Lord Mandelson, he is a consumate politician. He hasn't survived the scandals to go from Minister without Portfolio to Minister of Everything for no reason. That's why I wasn't that surprised at my reaction to his speech. I couldn't help thinking yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah ... Some might not agree - I might have missed something insightful or interesting, but I felt I'd heard it all before. I notice that Guardian media pundit Roy Greenslade, who was sat opposite me, didn't even mention the speech in his prolific blog the next day, preferring rather to talk about Marmite, Dubai, Singapore and New York. The full speech is here if you'd like to read it yourself.

Anyway, back to the gag ...

Actually, I need to do a tiny bit more scene-setting first. DMGT - parent company of Northcliffe Media Group, owners of the Leicester Mercury - released its interim profit statement at the end of last week. Although the group as whole exceeded the City's expectations, the figures for Northcliffe did not look great - profit down 67% on revenues down 24%. But for £50-million of cuts, much of it made up from the loss of more than 1,000 jobs, the company would have made a £30-million loss.

The Guardian ran an article based on an interview with DMGT chief executive Martin Morgan which began like this:
There will be more cost-cutting at the Daily Mail & General Trust's Northcliffe Media regional newspaper operation next year, with further job losses possible, the DMGT chief executive, Martin Morgan, said today.

Morgan said that Northcliffe Media – which has already shed 1,100 staff, about 25% of total headcount, in the year to 4 October – had perhaps weathered the worst of the unprecedented advertising slump but that more needed to be done.

"The drive for change and efficiency is continuing and we expect costs to fall [further] next year," he added, saying that further job cuts were "possible". "We will continue our reorganisation and re-engineering of the business. There has to be a continuing drive. We expect costs to fall again next year but the big cuts are behind us."
I guess the silver lining in that statement is that the big cuts are behind us, but it's why it is understandable that job security is still the number one issue for many of our staff in any one-to-one conversations I have with them.

And that gag?

What's the definition of optimism? A regional newspaper journalist ironing five shirts on a Sunday ...