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MEN Media closes regional newspaper offices

Clarissa Scott takes an inside look at the closure of newspaper offices across Greater Manchester

Published on September 19th 2008.


MEN Media closes regional newspaper offices

Journalists have reacted with dismay to the news that MEN Media is to close five of their weekly newspaper offices, moving six titles miles away from their patches.

It is difficult to see how the much-loved South Manchester Reporter will be able to continue with “zesty, youthful feel” whilst operating from an industrial estate miles away from its stomping ground of Chorlton, Fallowfield, and Withington.

Although the decision won’t result in job losses, it will see the end of more than a century of community-based reporting for some of the affected publications.

Both the South Manchester Reporter and the Trafford Metro will now move from Didsbury to Stockport, while the Wilmslow Express is being shifted to Macclesfield. The North East Manchester Advertiser will move from Beswick to the offices of the Tameside Advertiser.

Following an arson attack on the Middleton Guardian office in June, the title has now been permanently shifted to the Rochdale Observer office, where it will be joined by the Heywood Advertiser. It is understood the moves will be made over the next few weeks.

An MEN Media insider said: "This will make our jobs even more difficult and affect the quality of journalism within the weekly group.”

A spokesperson for MEN Media - which is owned by the Guardian Media Group, and runs the Manchester Evening News, Channel M, and around 20 weekly titles across Manchester - said the decision had been made as the offices reach the end of their leases.

They continued: “As a business we are constantly seeking to make operational efficiencies and the merger of some of our existing branch offices is a prudent move at this time.

“We remain fully committed to the localities we serve with our weekly titles and these closures will not result in any decrease in the numbers of local journalists we employ nor editorial focus we give to our local markets.”

Yet it is difficult to see how the much-loved South Manchester Reporter will be able to continue with “zesty, youthful feel” whilst operating from an industrial estate miles away from its stomping ground of Chorlton, Fallowfield, and Withington.

Equally, it will be the first time in the Middleton Guardian’s 130-year history that it doesn’t have a base in the town, while the Heywood Advertiser has also been based locally since the 19th century.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said that members from MEN Media’s Greater Manchester Weekly Newspaper (GMWN) division were meeting up with management this week to thrash out some improved conditions, including higher mileage rates.

They added that the news comes on the back of this year’s below rate of inflation 2.5 per cent pay increase for GMWN employees. According to the Guardian Media Group’s 2008 annual report, Mark Dodson, chief executive of GMG Regional Media – which includes MEN Media and GMWN - received a package of £403,000, including a salary of £226,000 and a bonus of £153,000.

Guardian Media Group chief executive Carolyn McCall was paid a package of £827,000, including a salary of £424,000, bonus of £385,000 and benefits in kind of £18,000.

Guardian News and Media reported an operating loss of £24.9m last financial year, while GMG Regional Media posted an operating profit of £14.3m.

Jenny Lennox, North and Midlands Assistant Organiser for the NUJ, said: “We are disappointed that they have decided to do this. There is a very strong feeling among the members that it won’t be in the best interests of the community.

“There are also concerns about advertising – all the newspapers are pleading poverty at the moment, but are people likely to advertise in a newspaper which doesn’t have a presence in the community?

“Staff are pleased that there aren’t any job cuts, and they are picking on offices instead. But obviously the whole context isn’t great.

“There has been a real lack of consultation from the company on this. It is a fundamental change of contract, but they only decided to inform us after they had decided to change offices. There is quite a lot of anger about that.

“They have started consulting members, but it is almost a done deal. Obviously, there is a limit to what we can do. The company does have the right to move staff if they want too. But it is a bit of a damning indictment on the situation.

“This has also come as staff have a 2.5 per cent pay increase imposed, while chief executive Mark Dodson has received a pay increase in the form of a bonus of around 36 per cent. What that says is, we will reward people at the top level for closing offices down.

“The Guardian Media Group regard these newspapers as a way to fund the Guardian, and they don’t mind paying people not very much to do that. People think the Guardian Media Group must be better than everybody else, that they must be liberal.

“But unfortunately that is not the reality of the way they treat their staff.”

The age when stories were gathered in the local over a pint of bitter was arguably dead and gone well before the internet came to dominate the media. But these papers cover newsy areas with a strong sense of regional identity. For them to be moved miles away from their patch is a sad indictment on journalistic standards from an organisation which claims to protect those values.

It surely doesn’t bode well for the future of local news in Manchester.

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

Free TibetSeptember 19th 2008.

Couldn't have put it more eloquently myself. You tell 'em Dalai.

Gavin misses the pointSeptember 19th 2008.

Gavin, any MEN Media employee being quoted in relation to this story would be marched out of the office within minutes. If you cannot understand that, there is really little point you commenting.

Dalai LamaSeptember 19th 2008.

Help me out here Gavin. If you are so disdainful about quality of the writing on this site, why do you read it? And if it really is just for the offers as you so charmingly mentioned, then it paints you as someone with a questionable moral compass. I can’t stand the Daily Mail, so I don’t read it and I’d certainly never want to benefit from any offer from them; it would make me feel like a hypocritical little madam. Going back to your accusations, if you have another little read of the piece, you’ll notice that there IS quote from an NUJ rep who says that her members feel “There is a very strong feeling among the members that it won’t be in the best interests of the community.” So although it’s not a direct quote, it alludes to a general consensus amongst members. Finally, since they aren’t actually losing their jobs (yet), it’s quite understandable that they wouldn’t want to be seen as coming out against their employers. Remember Karen Reissman? These MEN workers obviously have. Being unsupportive on record would hardly endear them to their employers would it? Similarly, a MEN Media insider is quoted as saying: "This will make our jobs even more difficult and affect the quality of journalism within the weekly group.” Yes this isn’t a named source, but this is likely to be for the same reasons I mentioned earlier.

impressedSeptember 19th 2008.

Dalai Lama, you do it very well. Yours is probably the best-written, pithiest and concise rant (or indeed feature) I've seen on MC for ages. Are you a dismayed journalist? You certainly could be.

AnonymousSeptember 19th 2008.

You one of the people that thought up the move eh Gavin?

Mr yeahyeahyeahSeptember 19th 2008.

Gavin, to be fair to MC; quoting from the National Union of Journalists kinda validifies the assertion that journalists are, indeed, dismayed.

gavinSeptember 19th 2008.

"Journalists react with dismay" goes the opening. Then NOT ONE quote from a journalist. Please stick to offers rather than lies. If you can't write news, don't bother. It doeesn't bode well for the future of local news in manchester if distortion and inaccuracy can be passed of as news like this amateurish crap. Do you have atrained journalist working there? News is meant to be based on fact, not what you'd like to happen cos you don't like the MEN.

Dalai LamaSeptember 19th 2008.

You're very welcome. When I'm not tied up freedom fighting or chewing the fat with Richard Gere, I like nothing better than a good read of Man Con. Also, their super duper rant facility means I can indulge myself in my new hobby of pointing the Gavins of this World in the right direction.

Gavin misses the pointSeptember 19th 2008.

Gavin, any MEN Media employee being quoted in relation to this story would be marched out of the office within minutes. If you cannot understand that, there is really little point you commenting.

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