Good editorial costs money. Good editorial sells newspapers. Those two short sentences pretty well sum up journalists’ thoughts on the business of newspapers. From the top floor the view is rather different as directors look over their shoulders at the shareholders: spending on news is something that can be squeezed to improve the bottom line.
Christine Odone, who writes the On the Press column in Media Guardian today, has two items in which she is urging profitable newspaper groups to spend more on editorial.
The first under the heading “The Mirror splashes towards salvation” suggests Trinity Mirror can afford to invest more to prevent further price hikes and boost the Monday-to-Friday operation. She quotes a claimed 17% margin at the Mirror to support her call.
The second item is built around a speculative suggestion that Johnston Press is trying to lure Andrew Marr back from London to head the Scotsman which it recently bought from the Barclay brothers.
She does not really expect the job to be taken by Marr, but concludes: “It’s up to the winner to make the Scotsman more than and Edinburgh Chroinvestment.” Translated: whoever gets the job will need to be given more money to spend money on editorial.”
Johnston Press is loved by investors for its profit margins which have reached 34.7%, although an announcement of poor advertising revenue from the stable of daily and weekly titles has not helped the share price. Among journalists it has a reputation for poor wages.
A telling quote comes from an anonymous potential Scotsman editor Johnston interviewed for the job. “These are people who look at the bottom line rather than worry about restoring a great liberal editorial voice to the national debate,” says the putative candidate.
Now, I wonder who that could be.