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Trust plan to save Press Gazette floated

The idea that the Press Gazette should be owned by a trust along the lines of the Scott Trust that runs the Guardian is attractive. It is important to the industry that there should be independent reporting and scrutiny in a time of rapid change, but it will not be easy to realise the dream outlined by the editor, Ian Reeves, today.

As he points out there have been seven different owners in recent years. The present owners Matthew Freud and Piers Morgan stepped in after the failure of the cross-subsidy stream from the British Press Awards. Their lack of success in restoring co-existence, if not love, between national newspaper editors and getting them all back into the awards is a reason given for the decision to sell.

Under their ownership both the paper and its website have improved. The Student Journalism awards, sponsored by Camelot, which are valuable in the development of young journalists have also been strengthened with Reuters hosting this year’s ceremony.

An inside page story gives more details of Reeves’ plan for “ownership by the industry” which suggest the paper can become profitable in the third year. This depends on increased display and recruitment advertising for which trustees would be offered a discounted rate. They would also get cut-price entry for the awards as part of the scheme to solve the impasse over the awards. No doubt, more details will be given at a meeting with 40 industry chief executives this week.

The success of the Guardian under the Scott Trust has also depended upon astute management of cross subsidy. The trust’s 2005-06 results show that the national newspapers made a loss of £19.3m before exceptional items. Trader Media was the “main engine of the business” producing an operating profit of £119.5m.

When the Press Gazette was founded some 40 years ago it rapidly became the first stop for recruitment ads. Ironically, the Scott Trust-owned Guardian now has that position.

Reeves says the aim would be “to publish Press Gazette as a profitable enterprise while ensuring its editorial independence”. He says: “The proposal requires a modest seed funding from each of the founding trustees, but also outlines the benefits that they would see from their involvement.”

It is right that the Press Gazette should be saved, yet I fear it is going to take more than a promise from the chief execs to put in a little money (seed funding and advertising) and buy expensive tables at the annual awards. But it should not be beyond 40 of the industry’s top executives to find a solution.

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