Old print media and their trained, fact-sniffing noses

There are now an amazing number of journalists, about 850, serving the Guardian’s online industry, with little or nothing to show for it.

It’s been years since reading a tally took me so close to needing emergency resuscitation. If Donald Trelford, a former editor of The Observer, had mentioned a number one-tenth the size in writing about the paper’s uncertain future as The Guardian’s stepchild in yesterday’s Independent, I’d have been speechless for hours.

Just what do so many reporters dedicated to digital publishing have to show for their trouble, I wondered. I’d been sure that the joint Guardian and Observer web site was still mainly being fed by old-fashioned journalists occasionally lending part of their brains to the online edition of their papers.

I looked at the passage containing the sentence again:

One senior Observer figure told me: “It’s surreal. There are now an amazing number of journalists, about 850, serving the Guardian’s online industry, with little or nothing to show for it. This is not what we signed up for, or what The Guardian promised, back in 1993. They are engaged in a wild gamble on the future and it looks as though they are ready to sacrifice The Observer to pay for it, even though it may never work.”

Journalists, unlike bloggers – understand facts – or so say … well, proper Old Media journalists and editors. So I typed that number into a search engine box with a key word or two to see if anyone else was as astonished as I was. No one, apparently, but there was this mention of the magic 850 in a January entry in the Editors Weblog of the World Editors Forum.

Guardian News & Media recently integrated its print and online operations, The Guardian, The Observer and the website Guardian.co.uk, having moved to new premises last month. […] Previously, five different buildings housed the Guardian’s 1400 staff, including around 850 journalists. Guardian News & Media has now taken three and a half floors of the new King’s Place development …

Hmmm … so the 850 journos were just ordinary Guardian print journalists – no Observer employees, naturally. And not specialists in e-publishing at all. But how could Donald Trelford, presumably filtered through vigilant Indy sub-editors, have been so misleading?

Curiouser and curiouser. . . Keep looking, I told myself — and found that even The Daily Torygraph is no stranger to the mysterious number’s magnetism — which I shall quote in its richest context:

The figures showed that Guardian News & Media (GNM), the division that includes both the Guardian and the Observer, lost £36.8 million, considerably worse than the £26.4 million loss in the previous year.
[…]
Those are noble ambitions but most of the 850-strong joint editorial team would prefer management to devote more time to making the newspapers financially viable rather than fretting about global warming. The Observer is thought to have lost as much as £20 million last year. In the same year, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger received an 11 per cent salary rise to £445,000.

Ah, so! A joint Guardian-Observer editorial team of 850.

But then why would someone of the standing of Donald Trelford — just because he was understandably upset on the Observer’s behalf — wield the statistic like a souped-up machete?

I reminded myself that the Torygraph, no friend of either paper, just might be indulging in a bit of sly disinformation.

… Now I could solve the riddle of the 850 myself. I might, for instance, email someone important and official at Guardian News & Media and get the straight scoop about that number.

But then I’d lose caste as a blogger. We leave all that fact-checking faffing-about to real journos in this ‘ere Blogosphere, I’m afraid.

And if I started behaving like a journalist, I could hardly end like this, could I? ……….;) …………………

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6 Comments

Filed under Editors and editing, The blogosphere, The Guardian

6 responses to “Old print media and their trained, fact-sniffing noses

  1. ISA

    Very interesting article Wordy,

    I wonder if we virtual few who are permitted to blog occasionally are part of that 850?

    “850, serving the Guardian’s online industry.”

    Probably. In which case they are talking about pennies and occasional pennies at that. I put about 3 hours into a blog and more with the to-ing and fro-ing and that makes the amount they pay me something around the rate of a gas petrol station attendant. I don’t think they have paid me yet for the last blog.

    Of course they are talking about stringers and free lancers and that’s another thing altogether.

    I also notice that Julia Hobsbawm – an old acquaintance of mine – wrote one article about two years ago, however she is formally listed as a contributor and I am not.

    The truth is that the Observer has a right of centre editorial line and the Guardian is left of centre and it seems completely illogical for the Guardian to abstain from publishing a print version on Sunday because the Observer is the equivalent of the Sunday Guardian – It isn’t.

    So they should get rid of the Observer, which was the New Labour flagship, anyway. The Observer should be able to make it on its own. It has a marvelous food magazine, music magazine and sports magazine – it’s just the editorial line and the comment which is just right wing ditchwater.

  2. @ISA,

    You might find this snippet interesting. In Seattle in March, the Post-Intelligencer — one of the city’s two surviving newspapers, shackled together in a joint operating agreement like the Obs and Gruan — ceased to exist as a print medium. . . It hasn’t died, both papers are in much better shape now, and the P-I is being kept alive as a web-only publication by — guess who? Its grubby and unwashed bloggers:

    The P-I is also faring better than expected. The Hearst Corporation kept the paper’s Web site alive as a news operation with a small staff, heavily reliant on more than 200 unpaid bloggers who write on things as diverse as their neighborhoods, cooking and marathon running.

    As I’ve said before, it’s time for your beloved Guardian to link to the personal sites of not just any decent bloggers — as Peter Robins has been doing on the GMG books blog lately — but of those bloggers who have helped to build its commenting community. … Soon the time will come for these disproportionate traffic-boosters to boycott the sites of newspapers that don’t share the rewards by linking to their blogs.

    As for the fight between the Obs and Gruan … of course I care very much about the fate of good journalists on the Obs… but given that Old Media are dying, isn’t the rest of the kerfuffle a case of bald men fighting over a comb?

  3. ISA

    Very harsh, Wordy. You are quite radical in your thinking, but I wonder if you are right.

    Wonder…wonder…wonder.

    OK. Maybe you are.

  4. Pingback: Bloggers can be choosers « acciaccature

  5. === Very harsh, Wordy. ===

    The rumours are true. I am indeed a fire-breathing, bulgey-eyed dragon, @ISA, but which part did you mean?

    Guessing… , I’ll say this … I think that most honest and intelligent journalists accept the inevitablity of old media giving way to their successors.

    Journalists are trained to look at the world with cold-eyed realism, or at least the better ones are — and view their own fates in the same way. . . It’s a profession with a code of toughness almost comparable to the Army’s. . . I sometimes wonder if yours isn’t a too-rosy and sentimental view of the newspaper business — because I don’t think you’ve ever worked in it, full time; … because you were born into it and, I’m assuming, were dandled on the lap of many an editor and journo as an infant. Some of your lovely reminiscences about your father and grandfather on Xuitlacoche read like accounts of air travel before planes became mass transport — part of a gracious, vanished past, … even if TH did specialise in outstandingly courageous exposés.

    More conventional introductions to the profession can resemble boot camp. The attitude to newbies, no matter how young and fragile-seeming, is best summarised as, ‘Either you can hack it or you can’t’, as the Americans say (yes, a terrible pun). . . And as I’ve shown in my next entry in the blog after this one, freelancers certainly aren’t cosseted or even particularly valued, no matter how useful.

    I have this from E. M. Cioran to consider before I’d dream of complaining:

    The certitude that there is no salvation is a form of salvation, in fact it _is_ salvation. Starting from here, one might organise our own life as well as construct a philosophy of history: the insoluble as solution, as the only way out.

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