Friday, 5 August 2011

WHY I OPPOSE KM BUYOUT OF NORTHCLIFFE PAPERS


I'm going to throw my hat into the ring and say I'm not very comfortable with the idea of the Kent Messenger Group buying Northcliffe Media's several regional newspapers. Since the Isle of Thanet Gazette is Northcliffe Media's only de facto paid-for weekly, running in direct competition with the Thanet Extra, both veritable newspapers in my opinion, it would certainly send tremors through local journalism if one rival media outlet absorbed the other's assets.

I noticed in this week's Thanet Times – Northcliffe Media's sister paper to the Gazette – that there was an article (see above picture) appealing for donations to Academy FM, the Thanet-based community radio station run by former KMFM founder Pete Willson. It explains how the 'radio station faces being forced off air' with Pete himself saying: 

“People forget we are a registered charity and it's been very difficult. We have money in place for three or four months, but if we can't bring in funds the station could face being switched off. If we lose Academy FM that would be tragic for Thanet.” 

I couldn't help but wonder if I'd be reading that article if the Gazette were owned by the Kent Messenger Group. Sure, Pete has career connections with the KM, and I have noticed Academy FM has achieved some publicity in the Thanet Extra in the past, but none of those seemed to directly appeal for public support and financial donations. Why on earth should they? After all, Kent Messenger Group's radio station, KMFM, is essentially Academy FM's chief competitor, so why would they print an appeal for donations for them? That's like the Telegraph writing an editorial expressing regret that The Guardian is making losses, rhetorically speaking.

So I guess the Academy FM story is one example of how a KM buyout might impact on local news reporting – if a story doesn't fit in with the media owner's commercial interests, it probably won't get covered. Simple as that. I'm also concerned that a scarcity of regional media outlets will almost certainly threaten the level of public accountability we've been lucky to receive courtesy of our local journalists.

However, I'm well aware that the world of local media is constantly changing and evolving. It was only in 2007 that Northcliffe Media bought the Thanet Gazette and other regional newspapers from Trinity Mirror, so this kind of toing and froing is simply the name of the game. What's different in this instance is that I can only imagine a KM buyout will rid our Isle of its zest for local competitiveness and, thus, I fear the diversity of quality local print journalism may suffer due to a lack of pluralism. I like chocolate bars, but that doesn't mean I only want one on the shelf.

Despite my reservations, I have no doubt that should this buyout come to pass, KM will handle its new acquisitions with the professionalism it always adheres to, but my point is that competitiveness is a key driver in the media industry, and if there's no competition locally, then there is a risk that standards might slip and the public may not get the high standard of journalism they deserve. Besides, even Roy Greenslade wrote two years ago of how relaxing rules on media mergers would “create geographical monopolies” and it will “not solve the fundamental problems of newspaper publishing in the regions.”

We can't say he didn't warn us...

If you feel the same way as me on this subject, then please contact Raúl Nieto at the Office of Fair Trading by e-mailing raul.nieto@oft.gsi.gov.uk and voice your concerns.

3 comments:

  1. Good post Luke I think your reference to Academy FM highlights the need to keep the biodiversity we're used to KM are already a big fish in a small pond and we

    need more fish

    A potential conflict with kmfm radio and reporting Academy

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  2. If you look how badly KM Ahford Express handled the save wye campaign run by the locals. To stop builders moving in to the hamlet of wye and the downs. Bloggers saved the day and stopped imperial college due to wrong doingings at the highest level.
    When self interest from advertising via the new homes developers made the km ashford editorially sit on their hands.
    The Telgragh reported them as a disgrace to journalism at the time and a book was writren on how local bloggers as well as kent on sunday came to local peoples defence when KM local paper took ad revenue over its public duty.

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  3. I must be honest, Anon, this is the first I've heard of this story. I've done a bit of reading up on it and for the sake of context would like to point people towards a few links. There’s a blog with lots of info about the Save Wye campaign (http://savewye.wordpress.com) which allows people to read about the scandal and the book are you are referring to is called Saved: How an English Village Fought for Its Future... and Won by author David Hewson (http://amzn.to/oGdUYd).

    However, I'm not quite willing to endorse your comments on ad revenue in this particular instance - the main suggestion on the blog came when contributor Justin Williams, Assistant Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, argues that 'crap journalism' was more at the heart of the KM's lack of news coverage on Wye more than anything else (http://savewye.wordpress.com/2006/09/14/the-conspiracy-of-crap-journalism/).

    Still, it certainly shows the important role blogging could grow to play in the future of investigative journalism.

    ReplyDelete