A toast to the future

10 Feb

THE managing director is holding his six-monthly staff presentation in an area of the building that once housed the Nitherley Weekly News. The Weekly News still exists – but it’s no longer produced in Nitherley. People with strange accents, most of whom could not pinpoint Nitherley on a map of northern England if all the other towns were removed, produce it somewhere south of Yaddlethorpe.

In recent years a tradition has evolved on the editorial floor of the Nitherley Observer and Bugle. When the Empress Lu Zhi, the MD’s ruthless though highly-efficient personal assistant, sends journalists an email inviting them to the presentation, it is dutifully ignored. For some, this is a form of protest against job losses and the wage freeze – a snub to the man who has initiated several waves of redundancies and is attacking their quality of life. For others it’s just that they can’t be arsed.

So Don K Jacket holds his presentation in an office as empty as a prairie and as cold as the Steppes. A collection of advertising reps, cleaners, administrative staff and reception girls with amber faces huddle on chairs arranged in a half-moon like a cinema auditorium. And at the end they clap.

Then life returns to a subdued normality. Those among us who refused to attend the presentation soon learn of its content. Revenues are still down. Targets have been missed. The pay freeze will remain in place. But the outsourcing of production and services and the transfer of jobs to other areas of the country – that strategy has been a phenomenal success. Something to celebrate, apparently.

At midnight, as frost cracks pavements and noisy drinkers slide from pubs, I pull on my coat and wander through this vast and empty building. I walk along corridors that once thronged with people, pass through an echoing press hall that’s now used as a furniture storeroom, peer through windows into offices that have been locked since their inhabitants were sacked three years ago and their jobs exported to India. And I try to figure out what it’s all about.

What is a regional newspaper if it’s not produced by the people and for the people of that region? Is its existence justified purely by the necessity to generate profits and hit targets set by accountants who care little about journalism and venture north only to visit the Lake District? Or is it more than that? Is it a heart that should beat like a drum; an authoritative voice that should be heard and respected; a mirror to reflect the concerns of the public; a vehicle to inform, educate and entertain its readers?

Or perhaps I’m missing the point. Perhaps this emptiness, this dust, this self-inflicted decay, the haemorrhaging of jobs and seemingly voluntary freefall into obscurity is the true nature of free enterprise. Perhaps the people don’t want newspapers any more. Perhaps, instead, they would rather sit down to their boiled eggs and toast in a morning and click on an app. Instant information.

Perhaps the future – the real and profitable future – is instant eggs and instant toast.


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