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Less is bore

Jonathan Schofield looks at the closure of the morning Metro’s Manchester office and what it means for the city's media

Written by . Published on September 4th 2009.

Less is bore

These are very bad times for journalists and writers.

Following huge redundancies for local Guardian Media Group staff earlier this year, the Daily Mail owned, morning Metro has made the decision to close its regional offices.

From a business point of view and given the way print journalism has lost advertising revenues recently, then cutting costs by losing this area of the paper was always likely. It gave the paper positioning and got the right people reading but it wouldn’t have made money for them.

These were located in Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol and produced the Metro Life section of entertainment and food pages. Up to 30 staff have been made redundant. For thousands of commuters into regional cities the exposure Metro Life gave to regional cultural activity was a vital and helpful part of the daily slog into work.

Andy Spinoza of SKV, the savvy Mancunian PR company, was one of the founders of City Life magazine in Manchester in 1983. He sees parallels today with the situation prior to that one – especially with the print media.

“This is a blow to the arts, culture and food and drink scene in Manchester. Back in the early eighties, the only outlet for arts and culture was the MEN. It’s better to have more than one voice in the city. We all feel the benefit when there are lots of arenas through which events, shows and so on can be covered. It’s hard to create a scene if nobody’s talking about it. City Life was probably instrumental in setting up the whole Madchester moment. When we lose people, as with Metro now, that becomes harder. The paper brought what was happening to the attention of a captive audience of commuters and got them talking. It gave them a broad view across the arts and food and drink worlds rather than examining a single niche area.”

Jenny Davies, the Communications officer at Manchester Art Gallery, reinforces this view. She said: "The closure of Metro's regional office is sad news. Their daily interviews, previews and well-written reviews played a valuable role in the promotion of the arts to a wide audience. I think the gap that leaves will be noticeable to people across the city, and the pages will be sorely missed by those of us interested (and working) in the arts."

Of course there's always the web. But the problem is as free content gets poured onto the web editorial professionalism disappears. Metro Life was produced by committed journalists who knew how to write and spell. There was quality control.

At Confidential we are an independent web magazine with a professional editorial team - but we are an exception to the rule. Most local web content is woefully under edited, often slapped up without anyone running a critical eye over it. When the hierarchy of print media with its checks and balances goes how many will follow the model we follow on free web content?

Ultimately it's advertising moving to the web - more than the economic downturn which merely accelerated the inevitable - that has done for the Metro Life section. The sad part about this is that Metro Life was the best written section of that paper. The news and sport, whilst informative at a base level, has always been a cut’n’paste job, whilst the gossip column guys, Neil Sean and Andrei Harmsworth, are plain embarrassing. Quality often seems to be the expendable commodity in this cataclysmic change in the media.

Spinoza agrees: “The arts and food section always seemed vulnerable, it had high-grade writing and good criticism and that jarred with the other areas of the ‘paper. Given the way print journalism has lost advertising revenues recently, cutting costs by losing this area of the paper was always likely. It gave the paper positioning and got the right people reading but it wouldn’t have made money for them.”

It all might get worse as far as arts, culture and food and drink coverage is concerned in Manchester. In October experienced hands such as Neil Sowerby and Kevin Bourke will leave the MEN and the City Life website after being made redundant earlier this year. Many of those made redundant may then be given freelance work back at the paper but the underlining message is clear. These areas are being seen as easy targets for cost cutting culls.

Is this not a bit strange? Given that news is the easiest area of the new media to access, and is often replicated in a slightly re-jigged form by countless companies, surely there must be room for quality and distinctiveness elsewhere?

Shouldn't clever critical writing from strong writers become more of a premium - perhaps even attracting a web subscription - especially in a regional journalistic scene that's contracting so rapidly?

That aside the loss of experienced writers with their networks of contacts across the city is not good news for those who appreciate a diverse and critical examination of Manchester's cultural life and its food and drink industry. The loss of a Metro Life diminishes Manchester journalism and takes away expert comment.

At Confidential we might have disagreed with what the writers at Metro said - the food criticism of Emma Jean Sturgess being a case in point - but we respected their views and wanted to know what they thought. Contrary is good. With the Metro gone there’s less chance for debate. And with less debate and criticism there's less reason for the city scene to improve.

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36 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

G MetcalfSeptember 4th 2009.

Blame's way out on something else too. The point Spinoza and Davies make in the article is that web sites are usually niche, and you only know about them if you stumble across them or are told about them. The Metro was a general paper you picked up on the bus so it had a broad range of stories. Thus before the changes earlier this year then it covered club nights or art shows you'd never learn about because you never knew the niche site.

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2009.

Hmm, maybe Manchester Confidential could syndicate a couple restaurant reviews each week if they're publishing from london but want northern content?

emone59September 4th 2009.

Always sad to see jobs lost but at least we won't have all the litter from discarded papers in the streets.

BlameSeptember 4th 2009.

Hm, must be a bit of an echo in here :s

JMatherSeptember 4th 2009.

"surely there must be room for quality and distinctiveness elsewhere?"Exactly. But none of these publications seem to be able to spot what's their USP. Metro has appeared more interested in developing already oversubscribed sub-3AM Girls "sleb" columns than its Metro Life section. And the final days of City Life as a proper magazine witnessed it somehow trying to evolve into an even crapper version of Heat (with some decent arts listings usually hidden between Big Brother "news" and Why We Are So Loving Polka Dots This Week). The quality arts/culture coverage (probably because we don't see at the forefront of the throwaway/tabloid/mainstream media elsewhere) appears to have been perceived as some dippy, largely irrelevant concession. Yet it's that coverage that actually made these products distinctive and relevant to many of the readers in the first place.

SusieSeptember 4th 2009.

In response to some of the comments above, I edit Creativetourist.com, which is the cultural blog published by museums and galleries in Manchester that’s aimed at visitors as well local arts goers. We’re new and yes, we’re publicly funded (to develop tourism) but we also support independent journalism by commissioning national and regional writers and giving them free rein on what they write – we recognise that readers don’t want regurgitated press releases or puff pieces but want to read real writing with real opinions. At CT.com we are concerned about the demise of the regional media and the continuation of good quality journalism in our city. We are not trying to fill that gap or compete, rather it’s our job to ensure that Manchester gets the national attention it deserves and that people visit the city as a result. It’s very early days for us but we feel that we’re doing something positive for Manchester – and we’re also working hard to publish new as well as established writers (including Man Con’s editor!).

It's freeSeptember 4th 2009.

I read the front,then the back then I put it back on the next stand I pass each morning.

Justin RichardsSeptember 4th 2009.

On a lightly ironic note, the article states that "Most local web content is woefully under edited, often slapped up without anyone running a critical eye over it. When the hierarchy of print media with its checks and balances goes...", etc.Then it swiftly follows that up with "Ultimately it's advertising moving to the web - more than the economic *downtown* which merely accelerated the inevitable..."Good to know that a bit of human error can occur despite ManCon's own checks and balances, hehe.EDITORIAL: Thanks for that Justin, we've changed it. By the way you've no idea how many times this piece was re-read to make sure we didn't mess up....doh.

tabloid haterSeptember 4th 2009.

Mark, that does not make the Metro a paper worth reading, does it?

Mike BarnettSeptember 4th 2009.

What a fascinating range of comments here. As someone who dealt with MetroLife on a regular basis - I'm the Media and Communications Manager at the Library Theatre Company - wearing my Library hat, MetroLife is a major loss to us; the loss of any widely disseminated outlet that publicises our artistic programme is to be regretted.But having been a journalist on City Life in both its workers' co-operative days over 20 years ago and under MEN-ownership, and then spending 10-and-a-half years as a freelance writer, I would question the knowledge, insight, and understanding of the arts of many (but not all) of MetroLife's writers.As my former colleague Andy Spinoza rightly says, City Life played a central role in Madchester (we used to have record company talent scouts at our then offices on Wood Street every other Tuesday desperate to read our demo reviews when the magazine came back from the printers; ah, the pre-internet days).But MetroLife never managed to play anything like that role in Manchester's pop, theatre, or visual arts scenes. I'd like to think that if I had ever got my hands on the editorial tiller at MetroLife, it might have been a bit different.On another point, I fear that much of the carping on various website these past two weeks at the Metro's generic news and sport coverage is misplaced. I care little for the right-wing editorial line of Associated Newspapers, Metro's publishers, but like it or not, Metro's news and sport coverage caters for its captive audience on their journey into town on the bus and train in the morning perfectly. It is snappily written, gramatically correct, and contrary to some of the above comments, their news absolutely does not take the reactionary right-wing political line of its parent company.

hater of all hatersSeptember 4th 2009.

It's a shame to see the metro life section a gonna, but the 'metro' gave me a shudder, having very 'dailymailesque' undertones. Not really representing our city of Manchester and what it stands for. It was a bit cringeworthy really.

MissBoobySeptember 4th 2009.

I think it's unfair to come down on Tabloid Hater for bringing about a very valid argument - MetroLife is possibly the only positive thing about the Metro - the fact of the matter is, it is a biased rag, a general 'easy reader' paper. I can guarantee that the majority of readers of the Metro more than likely skip past MetroLife to access all the exciting bits of lazy journalism that bang on with how awful the country is, how there are far too many immigrants and why Gordon Brown is still in a job, etc etc, blah blah, same shit different day. Dress it up all you like, the articles speak for themselves, look at the langauge they use.I don't mean to sound pretentious but face facts. If anybody actually paid attention to the tripe type angles Metro runs it's stories, they wouldn't miss it one bit. I'll miss Metro Life - but if you got rid of the whole paper, I'm hardly going to be crying into my Muesli.

G MetcalfSeptember 4th 2009.

Blame the whole problem is that people according to the principle must know what they're looking for at least approximately. I like the idea of the bookshop where I may stumble across something interesting not having any idea that's what might grab my attention. By the way that pen name is so bloody website too, do you want to change it to a real one? It makes this discussion seem silly.

tabloid haterSeptember 4th 2009.

Why cry over the loss of a tabloid owned by the Daily Mail that 'is designed to be read in 20 minutes'? Good on arts&culture coverage? Get a life!

Emma SturgessSeptember 4th 2009.

AD - I'm putting foodie bits and some North West restaurant reviews here hale-and-hearty.blogspot.com

Shaun AstleySeptember 4th 2009.

Would Blame and Tabloid Hater pay a subscription to Mancon? And if so how much?

tabloid haterSeptember 4th 2009.

Pay more taxes! Fund public art & culture to reduce commercial short sightedness. Fund public transport and finally get the populous Greater Manchester region (around 2.5m people) up to Second World standards. You get what you pay for...

east lancsSeptember 4th 2009.

"Community blogging" will never be a match for professional journalism in terms of investigative quality, writing quality, reliability, and accountability. And in fact a load of other reasons. The two are complimentary, alas the latter requires somebody pay for it. It's going to be interesting to see how this all pans out; if it weren't for the BBC and Sky, I suspect news sites in the UK might be charging already.

SortofagreeSeptember 4th 2009.

Just looked at creative tourist and it is slick and really pretty good. Shame that it is publically subsidised yet by the same token it's good to see the art galleries getting their act together and doing decent articles to accompany their exhibitions.

HapposaiSeptember 4th 2009.

Such a shame.Until the start of this year, I was always genuinely impressed by the quality of the Metro Life section -- it included one of the most comprehensive (daily) local gig and club nights listings both off- and on-line, and regularly had articles about small, non-mainstream happenings in the city. Even the little monthly Japanese film and music night I run (at the Greenroom) was featured on three separate occasions without any prompting from me, and it was clear that the people responsible had actual made an effort to do some research.This was majorly scaled back at the start of this year -- gone were the daily listings, and only a couple of selected events were now highlighted, the missing pages replaced by cheap page-filling trash such as 'funny things we've found on the Internet' (unbelievably, these even make it to third-page articles, sometimes!) and celebratory gossip.I doubt I'll be dirtying my fingers picking up a copy of the Metro in future.

blue or red pillSeptember 4th 2009.

Anon, get the NWDA in while you still can, haha...

tabloid haterSeptember 4th 2009.

Hater, the 'hidden message' of the tabloid is ADVERTISING. Thought you would have grasped that - the Metro is full of the stuff, in fact more than 90% of their articles were...and that is no fun to read! Why is it that the UK readership is the only country in THE WORLD to support more than 5+ tabloids? Do we all want a cheap deal?

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2009.

whilst i wasnt an avid reader of the arts pages i would read them from time to time should i have a vacant weekend or something caught my eye - like that little gig that moby did at Cup last year. Things like that that otherwise you may not hear about. Print media is facing a tricky challenge - online is clearly the way forward but the pricing model needs to be addressed. I personally get my news from a variety of sources - different sources for different things and i wouldnt necessarily buy the same paper every day so for that reason i would be reluctant to take an online subscription. Similarly i wouldnt be arsed taking my card out to pay a quid or so to read that day's news. ManCon manages to provide a full editorial staff and is free for subscribers so surely it is a workable model. that said, there are occasions when i question ManCon's integrity as, JS aside, it may lean in favor of advertisers from time to time.

James CambridgeSeptember 4th 2009.

The thing is that the public owned bodies are killing off private media anyway....even big private media. There's an arts website called creativetourist around now which I thought looked really good and conned me into thinking it was independent Manchester site then looked at the small print and noticed it was funded by all the museums and galleries. How can the private sector cope with that level of unfair competition?

Hater of Tabloid HaterSeptember 4th 2009.

There's nothing I HATE more than pretentious idiots such as Tabloid Hater. It is people like this creature that believe the arts should only be accessible to a select few. Why shouldn't there be an outlet for articles that are approachable for everyone? Ah, maybe this is because Tabloid Hater likes to stroke their ego by not only proclaiming to hate tabloids but believe only he/she can understand the ill-conceived hidden message a tabloid, and the masses, fail to grasp. Sad times for journalism, even sadder times to come if something else doesn't fill the void now created.

PHIL JONES - MFDFSeptember 4th 2009.

The closure of Metro after the MEN have removed their key players leaves Manchester with yet another gap in its ability to promote what's on to its citizens. Promoters with no national PR are once again the victims,as are the punters. we will have to get used to previews for events in London, rather than Manchester and advertising will drop because the Metro will cease to have a local effect. I give it 12 months if that, maximum !

the green perspectiveSeptember 4th 2009.

Aside from the editorial quality debate here, surely there is a silver lining to so many of the papers struggling... such as a reduction to the huge amount of natural resources they demand! Particularly free daily papers, I remember several years ago when working from an office in the city centre which overlooked a busy street near St Peters square. There was somebody handing out a stack of free papers there every day, and 50 yards away there was a bin full of that same paper! I'd stand and watch them whilst peeling the plastic windows off my envelopes to put the remainder into the paper recycling bins and think 'what's the point?'. Regardless of what claims are made about sustainable sources by the papers, printing and distribution of thousands of tonnes of paper on a daily basis surely can't be sustainable?

SortofagreeSeptember 4th 2009.

It's hard one that James. But if this new site is competition then it's not doing a very good job because I've only learned about it through your comment

MissBoobySeptember 4th 2009.

Mike Barnett...you obviously never read any other page besides the MaetroLife Section. Be objective please!

Karen GeeSeptember 4th 2009.

Blame you misunderstand the nature of the expert or experienced opinion from the expert or experienced writer. You talk about looking up food reviews from the readers of which you know nothing. If you follow a writer with a name then you can build an opinion of his or her views by direct sampling of their validity. The comment sections from citizen bloggers are wild and often prejudiced (far more than professionals). You might be basing your opinion on that of 21 year old who's comparing fine dining with experiences in, say, the Living Room. The editorial standards point here is so correct. Here's another analogy would you rather have the BBC review something or relate the news or a citizen blogger?

Gary DeiveSeptember 4th 2009.

Anon's comments there are interesting but again highlight the problem of the BBC - which I never ever want to get rid of by the way. But the BBC can afford to be impartial because they get a license fee, Mancon I reckon does bloody well on impartiality but is commercial and needs to keep advertisers happy otherwise it would close. The BBC's impartiality makes us think in the UK that everything should be

Danny McFaddenSeptember 4th 2009.

For those above who say that they enjoyed the sometimes esoteric clubs I covered in Metro's pages, I'm involved in the similarly niche http://www.northernights.co.uk

Mark Garner, the PublisherSeptember 4th 2009.

Blame I half agree with you. And, half don't. Citizen blogger I used to think was the answer. But for every decent blog, there are ten thousand piss poor 'citizen jouranalists' who discover that writing, like a lot of things in life, looks cool but becomes a chore. And for every good blogger, only one in a thousand keeps it up because they are too busy paying the rent.

ADSeptember 4th 2009.

I think some people are missing the point on newspapers almost without exception each paper adopts a political position and slants its articles acordingly. The metro to the right along with its daily mail stable mate. Its local culture offering was very good particulaly back when the liverpool and manchester offerings were seperate and EJS wrote more frequently. It is a big loss to the region and I dread seeing the reviews well get now, probably for restaurants in london we'll never visit. As I've said that unbaised journalism is a real rarity is worth saying that I am very pleased to see that mancon has taken this stance in its reporting, the loss of the Metro's regional pages works in Mancon's favour yet they are happy to say its a loss for their readers. well done!

a creative touristSeptember 4th 2009.

Isn't most art publically subsidised? Nowadays, a visit to the art gallery is therefore free and most notably: without ads!

AnonymousSeptember 4th 2009.

Well let MEN charge for its city edition pump up the lit crits, with no reviews replublished on the web for its city edition and see what happens.comment on this section."Shouldn't clever critical writing from strong writers become more of a premium - perhaps even attracting a web subscription - especially in a regional journalistic scene that's contracting so rapidly?"

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