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Why the Birmingham Post must change

By Marc Reeves on Aug 25, 09 06:17 PM in Editor

I have just announced to my staff that Trinity Mirror was starting a consultation process with them over the future of the Birmingham Post, the title I have edited for more than three years.

There are two options for change on the table - each a response to the fact that the Midlands region of Trinity Mirror will lose £6 million next year unless some radical action is taken now. The Post as a key title must play its part in plugging that profit gap, and I'll get to the two options later.

This consultation process is unique in my experience in that as well as seeking the views of staff - who are of course the people most directly affected by any changes - we also want the views of readers and advertisers. Launches and relaunches of newspapers always involve market research and testing, of course, but rarely do publishers open up the decision making process as early - and as transparently - as we are doing with the Post.

I think that's a mark of the special role the Post plays in the life of the Midlands. No other region in the UK has a daily paper that gives as much quality coverage to business, politics and the arts as does the Post. In its own little way, the title is one of the many unique attributes of the West Midlands, and one that is highly prized as a result.

Readers have an almost fanatical allegiance to the Post, and any changes are met with the kind of reaction that I've rarely seen in any of the newspapers I've worked for over more than 20 years. It's because of this fierce sense of ownership that I think it's absolutely the right thing to do to give the whole region a say in what could be the most important decision for the Post in its 151-year history.

Here, I want to set out why we need to change and describe what we think are the best options, so you can respond with your views and help us make the right decision.

But first, what's the problem and why to we need a big change? Behind the stark financial picture I painted earlier lies a complex set of changing circumstances that makes the current recession particularly painful for any business in the media - and especially so for the regional press. What's more, when the UK emerges from the financial downturn, by no means all of our old sources of revenue will return to 'normal'. We make most of our money from advertising, which is fuelled by the marketing budgets of other businesses. When recession bites, these are the first lines to be cut, and we've seen serious and sustained declines, particularly job and property advertising. In the Post's case, the catastrophic hits sustained by the financial and the commercial property markets have been reflected directly in the amount of advertising we see from these sectors. Given their significance for the Post, this has been a very painful change indeed.

At the same time, however, the very structure of the advertising market has fundamentally changed, with total advertising on the internet overtaking the regional press for the first time this year. While the Post's very successful online service is lauded as one of the best in the regional press, it's competing for audience attention and advertising pounds with everyone from the BBC, Telegraph Online and Google to local blogs, Ebay and niche business sites. Just a few years ago, our competition consisted of nearby rival newspapers and a few radio stations. Now we compete with the world. We're gaining a lot of online advertising, but not at a rate to replace our declining print advertising.

Last year's radical change - we switched from a broadsheet to a compact format, and scrapped the Saturday edition - was a response to that challenge, but such is the depth of the recession, one that wasn't radical enough to ensure the survival of this great title.
So what could a new Birmingham Post look like , one to weather the recession and emerge equipped to thrive in the new media world?
The facts: our biggest expenses are staff and manufacturing costs. Any change that doesn't reduce either or both of these areas simply won't plug the profit gap, so our approach is to look at reducing the overall number of pages printed per week. With each page lost, you reduce the absolute cost of the ink and paper - and also the work that goes into producing the content, and hence the labour cost. We've therefore looked at reducing the size of the paper on an average day, or reducing the number of days per week on which we publish. The somewhat zanier ideas that we rejected early on included total closure, a merger with the Birmingham Mail, or even going bi-weekly.

We're now left with two options, each of which result in broadly the same improvement of the profit position of the Post, but are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
In the first option, the daily pagination of the Post would be reduced to just 40 or 48 pages per day, including Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, when we currently regularly exceed 60 pages. Because of the need for savings, many of those pages will need to rely more on contributed content and national stories from agencies than is currently the case, and the local flavour will therefore be diluted.

The second option is to move to a weekly model - probably publishing on Thursdays - with a much bigger edition of around 96 pages at its core, plus commercial supplements and sections such as Post Property and Living magazine.

The first option retains more editorial jobs than the weekly model, but will result in my view in a much weakened brand because the paper will represent less value for money for the reader, day-by-day.

The weekly model will provide a much more comprehensive package of information, entertainment and advertising, and I believe will do more to preserve the brand values of the Post, and therefore offer a more sustainable future for the title. We think we will be able to retain most of the essential elements that exist in the current model and incorporate them in a weekly Post.

For the weekly model, we are even forecasting a modest circulation increase, based on the recent experiences of daily papers that have gone weekly.

Cards on the table? I believe the weekly model is the best option for the Post. There's a lot of emotion connected to the supposed status of being a daily paper and many of my contacts in the city regularly state baldly to me that 'Birmingham simply must have a daily business paper'. But at what cost? Increasingly, our diet of daily and immediate news is fed by online services and broadcast media, and newspapers have a much reduced role in bringing news we didn't hear first somewhere else. Papers are increasingly more about providing analysis, comment and insight.
I believe that should be the role of the Post in print - to explain and examine the big decisions and issues in the region, while keeping readers up to date with the immediate through our website and other online services.

A substantial, value-for-money weekly package is surely the best home for this, where the very best elements of the Post's coverage can be found all in one place.

That's my view anyway. There will be many others that take a very different position, I'm sure, and I genuinely want to hear as many views on this as possible.

439 Comments

Ursula said:

Letter to the Editor


Sir,


(Marc, you have no idea how much pleasure typing the above two lines give me.)


You are spot on in your analysis. With our own local daily I see the same problems. I'd breathe a sigh of relief if they'd condense themselves to a weekly. In an age when we are flooded with information coming at us from all sides of media less is more. Not just for the reader, but surely the writing contributors too: Better to brew a strong broth than to serve a daily watered down version.


Where that'll leave revenue I don't know. Yet, surely, it's a case of "Don't ask what the reader can do for the paper but what a paper can do for its readers". (Reeling them in no less - including advertisers since they'll only have that once-a-week window).


Plenty more to say. I wish you luck.


U

Anonymous said:

Simply can't imagine a world without the Post in printed form - so whatever shape it takes and Marc Reeves is in the best place to know what that needs to be - then so be it.

But the mention of subscriptions by Gary above sparked a thought. Can't we (businesses in the West Midlands region) help save the Post ourselves - maths never was a good point so don't know how the sums would add up but wouldn't we all be more than willing to pay 2-3 times the current daily cost of the paper to see it survive (and in printed form too) via a subscription.
It's a nationally respected paper. Getting any mention in there has always been the holy grail of regional coverage for businesses and has been instrumental in the launch of many successful companies I've no doubt over the years.
Quite simply businesses in the West Midlands region need the Post. We must fight to see it survive.

C, Birmingham

Blair Kesseler said:

Good, well thought out and thought provoking piece. Just what I expect from the Post, Marc!
The truth is the world moves on. Even me, as a near pensioner, get my news feed from the internet maybe five times a day, never mind radio and TV. What I want from the Post is local depth, good business coverage, connection with the life of the region (including the charitable sector - don't let Thrive go!)
I have no doubt that you can provide that on a weekly basis - and get a few more readers on the way.
Having been through downsizing in previous careers I can feel for the staff who will be worried about their futures. However, Birmingham needs a serious paper and if the model that works is weekly - then best of luck

Janette Rawlinson said:

Endorse the option to go weekly but better quality local/regional stories. who else and where else can we fly the flag for local/regional business and its achievements when so much central/national policy and reporting downcries the vital work carried out in this region in wealth creation, manufacturing and service sector?
we all need to say what can we do to help solve the problem before it's too late and we lose our very important recognisable publication which gets out local issues quickly.
given new apps on i-phones and blackberries etc, how about a headline subscription service or feeder/teaser headlines to tempt us to the weekly publication?
this paper is read on trains and planes leaving the region for other parts of the country and internationally and often carries important messages to farflung interested parties, we do need to take some ownership/interest as others have said.
great idea to consult widely before taking action. as Ursula said, better to have less but good quality than information overload and overwhelm.

Janette Rawlinson said:

Endorse the option to go weekly but better quality local/regional stories. who else and where else can we fly the flag for local/regional business and its achievements when so much central/national policy and reporting downcries the vital work carried out in this region in wealth creation, manufacturing and service sector?
we all need to say what can we do to help solve the problem before it's too late and we lose our very important recognisable publication which gets out local issues quickly.
given new apps on i-phones and blackberries etc, how about a headline subscription service or feeder/teaser headlines to tempt us to the weekly publication?
this paper is read on trains and planes leaving the region for other parts of the country and internationally and often carries important messages to farflung interested parties, we do need to take some ownership/interest as others have said.
great idea to consult widely before taking action. thanks for the consideration, Mark.

dinkey said:

I'm sorry, but with all due respect, this isn't consultation and these aren't appropriate options. This is a patronising PR exercise to soften up readers on behalf of Trinity Mirror who have already decided what to do. It's clear that you will be keeping your job either way unlike many of your colleagues.


Trinity Mirror have completely mismanaged their whole Midlands newsprint and internet operation. They paid over the odds for buying the titles which are now worth less than a tenth of what they borrowed. They are trying to squeeze too much out of the titles to pay back the banks, and with a complete absence of a coherent internet strategy and lack of core investment, no wonder the Post is in trouble. Trinity Mirror has not adapted but simply been using the same old business model and now blames the competition, falling advertising revenues and the internet.


I can't believe the naivety of the writers of the previous comments who have swallowed the diversionary tactic.


Don't get me wrong, I think you, Marc Reeve, have done a great job editing the Post with the limited resources you've got, and continued to produce a terrific newspaper. And I'm sure the web team do the best with the miserable platform they've got (which is certainly not lauded by anyone I know).


More and more the editorial and sales teams of the Guardian and Telegraph seem to be primarily focused on web activity, where the new markets and revenues lie and their newspapers almost seem to be secondary to the core internet business. Trinity Mirror just doesn't seem to 'get it'.


Birmingham is supposed to be England's second city and it will no longer have a quality daily newspaper (it never got the chance of a decent news website). The really big loser here will be the business community throughout the West Midlands who rely on the Post.


It is disappointing that the editor has chosen to side against his Midlands readers (and staff) in this way and align himself to the London parent group's thinking which has clearly no interests but its own in mind.


It would seem that in the apparent cost saving measure to move out of the City centre to Fort Dunlop, the Post and Mail lost its Birmingham heart and loyalty. It also lost £9.3million in the failed property deal - more mismanagement?


The honourable thing here would be to support your readers and marshall support to maintain a daily title and reinvent the Post for the internet era. The other honourable option would be to resign and let someone else fight the corner for Birmingham and the Midlands. But please don't just roll over and accept this and dress-up two bad options in eloquent tosh and pretend its consultation.


Vern Topper said:

Weekly would be fine by me, but please let us have a digital download Thursday edition, with a quarterly subscription payable via PayPal. The wider West Midlands business reader doesn't see the paper edition of the Birmingham Post in the newsagents - but would quite like to download and read it, adverts and all, in the format for which it was intended.

Praguetory said:

This isn't surprising. Like the rest of the newspaper industry your masters failed to spot that the sluggish growth under New Labour was itself unsustainable - and we're supposed to read your paper for analysis?

If you're serious about cutting staff costs, I would happily submit articles reporting on what's really happening in Birmingham politics for free. By the way, have you seen the state of your online forum?

Tony Taylor said:

I would very much miss the "feel" of a paper Post, but can see from the general malaise throughout the newspaper market that it seems no one is prepared to pay to advertise - in this medium - however judging by the "pop ups" on Google, etc - perhaps there would be a sustainable income stream if the "paper" went internet based. I do wonder whether it's an age thing? do young people read papers? Are they naturally going to die out as my age group does (57 on 9/11)? Personally I can think of nothing worse than taking my lap top to the loo for a few minutes read - I don't even have the internet at home - much to Eliabeth chagrin - I have square eyes as it is without having 7 day a week access! After John Cranage's article talking up the stock market yesterday- I did wonder if I was living on some parallel planet - as mostly I get doom and despondency from the "local" business community and if you are going to report more national issues it takes the whole reason for buying local away - I want strong local news reporting - I get the national stuff (presently) free on line, but would have no objection to a subscription based LOCAL newspaper - whatever happens please keep going - I've been reading the Post for 50 years! Good luck Marc and thanks for engaging the readership.

Mr O said:

Marc

Your brave attempt at trying to re-arrange the deckchairs on the Titanic is as touching as it is naive.

I understand, as a manager, you have to maintain the corporate position. From your own point of view, you well know your own position is as much at risk as any of your colleagues.

The point is, it doesn't really matter what you do. Go weekly. Lose 30% of your editorial staff. What you're doing in effect is slowly winding down a medium that is no longer relevant and can't make any money.

In short, the Post won't be around in 2012, and you're deluding yourself if either your pitifully tiny readership or small band of ex-advertisers are going to be marching through the streets of Brum in protest.

Business is business. And your model has been a busted flush for at least 10 years. I know it. You know it. And management have known it for years.The problem has always been the method of execution.

All the recession has done is bring the model's inherent failings into sharp focus. Online dominates, news is a free commodity and you haven't figured out where revenues are going to come from in the digital age.

If newspapers had never existed and you pitched the idea today to Theo, Duncan, Peter, Debra et al, you'd be laughed out the Den before you'd even finished your speech.

It's time to let go and move on. The world changes and you need to change with it.

If that means abandoning the sinking ship, then so be it and good luck to you and those that will lose their jobs.

Maybe it's time to keep your eyes wide open and network like hell.

Best wishes

Foz B. said:

However much I cannot dispute the problems outlined in the posting and whilst I know nothing around running a newspaper – I can't help but think that the two “options” are a negative response, where a positive one is needed.

Thinning the title and padding it out with more syndicated content is a tactic that has already been used over the years – and is a reason why several people I know, who'd read the paper for years, stopped parting with their cash. We know that change was forced by finances, not because of a lack of will or talent by the people on the paper – but, already 70p can be a big ask on lighter days.

A weekly just seems against all logic. You can't compete against more instantaneous news sources, so you'll go in the opposite direction and give us news LESS frequently. Yes, yes, you'll say it'll be quality over quantity – but it'll be very out of date before it gets to us. I already find it annoying to pay for a paper and read what I did the day before somewhere else. Weekly exclusives and expert analysis you say? Hmmmm.

Then there's the claim that the Post website will continue apparently as normal. Well only a mug will believe that. Management types will surely staff the post as a weekly, not a daily – so there won't be the people to produce the regular content we love.

Saving by cutting will only work if it comes from genuine efficiency savings – this is cutting the product to pieces. A weakened daily, or an out of date weekly and a website highly unlikely to be of the same quality as today. This is a company giving the paper a slow death so that they can say in political circles that the “tried everything”.

I dare say that any comment not about the two “options” is pointless – as in so many situations, the decision has been made by management types. The weekly idea was floated weeks and weeks ago – it's clearly the one that has been thrashed out in detail. A consultation process isn't really a consultation process if you put two options you've already thought of on the table as the only discussion point.

However, as I said – this is a time for POSITIVE action, not cutting our beloved institution to bits.

When the Post relaunched, I had an idea that I didn't dare share for fear of being shouted down, but since things are this bleak, I'll voice my crazy idea.

Why is it called the “Birmingham” Post?

The content may be focused on “Birmingham”, but it is certainly not limited to it. I live in Birmingham, but I regard as what's going on in the Black Country/Coventry/North Warwickshire/South Staffs (etc) to be of relevance to my 'local area'. Heck, even Herefordshire and Worcestershire are part of the regional (not county) definition of the West Midlands....and the Worcestershire border isn't far down the road!

I somehow doubt that a publication called “Birmingham” gets the readership it could in those outlying areas – there are parochial tendencies in the West Midlands.

I'd rather have a wider regional paper, than a more local one with mostly national content. If I was outside of Birmingham, I'm sure I'd be more likely to buy something that didn't appear less relevant to me by the headline name at the top.

I'd like a daily paper for the West Midlands please......with MORE coverage of the region and a WIDER MARKET to sell it to.

I guess the Post might already claim to be a paper of the West Midlands, not just Birmingham – but with that name and fewer and fewer staff mining stories, you just can't be!

There's even more potential to expand the Post's reach too. The paper hugs the tiny group of “professions”, the lawyers, the accountants and the property moguls – but what's the biggest business group in the West Midlands? By a country mile it's the small and medium sized business segment. Sure, they're a fragmented bunch – but my goodness, if anyone needs a strong local media source, it's this group. They don't all wear suits and attend wine bar events, but they're a big audience producing a lot of news and in need of a big central voice. Surely?

Secondly, the Post, to me at least, doesn't really seem to reflect the region that I see. Oh goodness, anything to do with race is tricky ground, but maybe it is a little white middle class from hugging those suited professions so much? It's no wonder lots of people who could buy it don't buy it.

Quite honestly, when the Post “relaunched” in it's new format, I did wonder what possible impact that could have. It was the same paper with smaller pages and a new layout. I'm sure that the only people who noticed that were the existing readers – and it didn't change anything really. Same old business problems in a smaller size.

I do like the new format by the way – much easier to handle – but, was hardly the tonic to save the day.

I don't share the view that papers are dead, there's a techno elite who assume that all the world is connected to the internet and cares about it as much as they do. Perhaps in time, the paper format will go – but you cannot at present lay all the blame at the internet. Lack of relevance to a wider audience is a problem not caused by the internet.

If the cuts proposed go ahead, I cannot foresee this as being a transition to full digital anyhow. It's a politically correct way to kill the paper. If you cut editorial staff based on cuts to the printed publication – the website won't have the quality to be worth tuning into.

So I'd make an appeal to Trinity Mirror slashers to take off their tin hats, stop hiding in bunkers with their white flags ready to give it all up – and look at the POSITIVE opportunities to use the talents at the Post & Mail (or whatever name you are this week) to GROW.

Growth is possible. “The Post” - Business & Lifestyle News for The West Midlands Region. If Trinity Mirror don't have the will......let's hire some portakabins somewhere and do it ourselves :)

Paul McSweeney said:

I think turning the paper into a weekly paper would be a mistake. It would lose its prestige instantly and you would lose your most important market. ..the business community. How could you expect to serve the business community with information that is 3 or 4 days old..markets move fast:)
I would: Lessen the page count as you suggest. Focus solely on the business community with a local sports section. This is where your value is. Everything else can be acquired online..editorial comment, sudoku etc. If sourcing articles means a reliance upon contributed content and is therefore a cost, abandon it.

40 pages, focus on the business community in Birmingham (where you are the market leader) - charge £1 per issue. Supplements - 1 business oriented supplement per month - make it competitive and valuable to advertise in the supplement by increasing the relevance and lessening the frequency of the supplements; thereby increasing your revenue from advertising in each supplement.
Target what you are good at; and then the advertising will be more defined and therefore you can charge more.

Paul McSweeney said:

By the way, how much would it cost to buy the Birmingham Post?

chris said:

In answer to Paul McSweeneys question the obvious answer is just 70 pence.

And if more people put their hand in their pockets for that each morning instead of reading the shared copy in the office and bewailing its potential loss because 'it is so important to Birmingham', we probably wouldn't be having this discussion now.

Mary said:

I agree with Paul Sweeney's comments, "Focus solely on the business community with a local sports section".
By choosing to downgrade the sports coverage when you went compact, you missed an opportunity to tap into a unique market for sales - Midlands business people who are interested in local sports particularly football, cricket and rugby.
Actually I believe that if the Midlands football teams started winning things The Post's circulation and thus revenue would have been far higher!
My suggestion is that The Post looks for a local buyer - one who values local business and sport.

JP said:

Is the demise of The Birmingham Post really that much of a surprise? Can it wholly be blamed on the recession or the current management? It seems to me that one of the, (if not the), biggest lame ducks in British daily newspaper publishing has had more than a fair innings to prove that it warrants a place in that market, and for one reason or another has failed to do so.

Observer said:

Chris is precisely right. The way in which Birmingham's professional community sells the Post short by having just a few office copies that do the rounds is shameful. Help the paper put on another 10,000 sales and its problems will disappear.
One other thing needs to be said - the Post has suffered, along with most other newspapers, both regional and national, from under-investment in editorial content. Newspapers should contain news, and in the case of regional newspapers it should, in the main, be regional news. Constantly cutting staff erodes the volume and quality of a newspaper's content - something that advertisers acknowledge by keeping their chequebooks closed, and that readers recognise by cancelling subscriptions.
Trinity Mirror should be spending its way out of this crisis - although I won't hold my breath.
As to the business and professional community assuming control of the Post, the idea is too half-baked to consider. Imagine the difficulties of trying to unravel the Post's pension scheme from Trinity Mirror, or providing access to newspaper library facilities - without which no paper can survive - that are no longer held locally but are digitally stored in London.

Ben said:

As a number of people have suggested, there is a collective responsibility in the city and wider region to see that the Post survives as a vital place for the discussion of business, democracy and cultural life. The figure of £6m seems miniscule when compared to the tens of millions the city regularly squanders on its (disfunctional) marketing operations.

In the current climate of generally declining newspaper sales it seems inevitable that the paper should shift increasingly towards the internet (where the Post needs to make a lot of improvements in my opinion). Maintaining a weekly printed edition probably makes sense, but without daily sales where is the paper going to get revenue from? My understanding is that the current model of internet newspapers (ie relying on online advertising) is not working and incredibly successful online papers such as the Guardian are hemorrhaging cash.

The worst thing would be if a shift to a weekly format simply represented another step along the route to ultimate closure. This would be a disaster for Birmingham. In the 19th century J. Chamberlain dragged this town kicking and screaming into the modern era, and turned it into a true 'city' in the process. I very much fear that a city the size of Birmingham with only a weekly edition of its main newspaper risks slowly slipping back towards its rather parochial and unambitious origins.

Any way, in conclusion to a rather rambling post, is there anything the business community can do to help actively secure the future of the paper? The circulation of the Post in a city with a population of almost a million has always struck me as shockingly low. Could businesses increase their subscriptions from one copy to two? The importance of the paper to the local economy and culture cannot be over-stated.

Paul McSweeney said:

Re: Chris' comments above,

I meant to buy the business as a whole; not just a copy!
Another problem is regarding the shared copy in the office..you can go walk into any decent hotel in town and pick up a free copy...if, as I believe, the future is local business and sports focus, free copies to passing residents are of no value to the business model. They are hardly likely to pick up a copy..go home..and subscribe.

Paul

Ben said:

Excellent post from Foz B.

The question of how to appeal to the region is an interesting one. I fear dropping the 'Birmingham' might dent city-based sales too much, but then what is there to lose?

I believe the Western Morning News (based in Plymouth but sold across the South West region) is quite successful in reaching precisely this regional demographic. As far as I am aware it is also doing relatively well compared to some other local papers.

Birmingham desperately needs to see itself (and be seen by others) as capital of a city-region, as it is only at this scale of ambition that the city and the wider area can punch above its weight at a national and international level.

The sense that the BP doesn't represent the true cultural diversity of the city and region is also another point well put. I suspect the paper's failure to properly address and appeal to a wider, less homogeneously white readership is a significant factor in its long-term decline.


Jack Kirby said:

I don't buy the daily Post, but I would buy a weekly. But the quality of Post journalism needs to improve too.

Ken Welsby said:

On a rare trip back to Bham read yesterday's feedback in print, for once.

So sad to hear your news - but the important thing is to turn it into an opportunity.

I've been a business journalist / media person for 40 years, including 5 years as business editor of the Mail in the 70s. In that context I've been involved in several launches / relaunches / repackaging projects - including Business a.m. in Edinburgh (which sadly closed after just two great years).

So here's my take. The shrunken daily option is pointless. It [pardon me for the marketing speak but this is about business] devalues the brand and dilutes the USP. Forget it.

The sensible option is the combination of a live website plus a weekly regional magazine.
The website has two parts: free and paid.
The free part both stands on its own for "skimmers and dippers" and acts as a taster for the subscription title, which is available both online and weekly in print.

The trick is to focus the weekly content on analysis and in-depth coverage that people will pay for. Make it look more like a magazine - NOT a newspaper. But you could still have a "newsy" front like Campaign, which is a great format.

If your presses can handle a better grade of newspaper (magazine quality) so much the better. Advertisers prefer it, and editorial photos look better.

The other key point is to widen the talent pool. Find experts in every field plus 2-3 good columnists with hard-hitting views: they could be bankers, lawyers, day-traders or dog-walkers. Even politicians. But they need to have that "must read" factor that will have everyone clamouring for next week's issue.

Best wishes

Ken W

Ian Strachan said:

Marc

Nicholas Newman (above) and Bernard Zissman in today's Post are onto something. Regional and local newspapers are part of the fabric of a town or city, every bit as much as the local pub or the post office. They are not - and never have been - cash cows, and they rarely make money. In an ideal world local papers should not be owned by national groups. How can the emotion that is tied up in a regional newspaper title possibly be appreciated in a boardroom in London, where the priority - rightly for them - is shareholder value? Going weekly is, I am quite sure, the obvious answer from a financial point of view. But it would be the beginning of the end. It's much easier to close down a weekly than a daily at some point in the future, and Trinity Mirror has lots of form for closing down weeklies, even ones with heritages stretching back centuries - including the Walsall Observer, the paper I was proud to have cut my teeth on.
The New York Times, as a standalone product, doesn't make money - nor does the Washington Post or the Chicago Tribune. But can you imagine the clamour if it was suggested that one of those titles close or go weekly? There'd be rioting in the streets. Closer to home the same could be said about the Liverpool Echo. The Birmingham Post - as we've seen from some of the reactions above - is more than a newspaper, and it deserves to be taken into local ownership. Newspapers, like football clubs, don't make money for their owners, but they have huge emotional capital which is why they are desirable assets. I know Trinity Mirror made an abortive attempt to offload its Midland titles a while back, but I'm sure there is enough local capital to buy the title and build it up through investment, and make commercial arrangements with Trinity to enable it to be printed at the Fort. I write the Rich List so I know how much money is washing around the region. All it needs is someone to champion the coming together of a consortium. So come on, wealth creators of the Midlands. How much does the survival of the Birmingham Post mean to you?

Ian Strachan
Ian Strachan Communications Ltd.

Bilbo said:

Quick question to all those who've suggested the weekly Post supported by a regularly updated website might be the answer - if the weekly option involves the laying off of journalists then who will create this quality local news for the website to update with?

Ursula said:

Bilbo, as valid your question as annoying it is:


Being in a 'full time' job is not meant to be a cushy number or "occupational therapy", and most certainly is not a right (if you want either do become a civil servant or join the growth industry of your local Job Centre Plus advisers).


Why shouldn't freelance journalists be paid - like a seamstress - for good piece work? So much more of an incentive to come up with high quality goods.


U

Dorothy Hobson said:

The Birmingham Post alongside the Birmingham Mail have been part of the strong media options that the people of Birmingham and the surrounding area have 'taken for granted' for many years. They are both excellent publications and manage to serve all their readers with different, relevant and well produced information. To lose the Post would be a disaster and I agree with The Editor that to produce a weekly paper of a high quality would be much preferable to a lesser daily edition. In fact, it is something to look forward to - a positive change which provides the possibility of a larger, quality paper to enjoy on its day of publication and throughout the weekend. Nobody throws out the Sunday papers for a few days and advertisements and content are read after the Sunday day of publication. This gives added life to the content and benefits advertisers. The Post must seize the opportunity and make the new venture a positive success for its staff and its readers. Good Luck.

Bilbo said:

Ursula,

Do you really think they're going to pay freelancers when they're making cutbacks?! I'm guessing you don't know Trinity Mirror too well? Filling the time of full-time staff with freelancers costs a heck of a lot more.

No, it'll be press releases and PA news which will fill the void, thus negating any value in moving 'online'.

office worker said:

A weekly Post seems the most sensible option both financially and in terms of editorial quality. But will the business community it serves consider playing their part? If the readership stops paying PR companies to get "stories" into the Post, and actually invest in some advertising space, the Post could yet thrive as a quality weekly paper.

AndyC said:

Publishing a comprehensive weekly edition with all of the main elements of the current paper (including sport and the 'friday' supplement) could actually make the Post indispensable once more. I doubt that charging 70p for a 40 page daily edition of Press Association re-prints would attract many people, particularly when most of us can a similar level of information from the Metro for free.

I would hope though that the website will still continue to be updated with latest news on a daily basis, leaving the weekly newsprint version more for articles and analysis that wouldn't be available elsewhere (charge a subscription that covers the printed weekly and access to the website if necessary).

My only criticism of the current Post is that it focuses on the business market and almost ignores public-sector and other professional people in the West Mids who might also be interested in a quality local newspaper.

Nick Venning said:

I wonder if I can put this debate in the bigger picture....

In the world today, Britain is the nearest society that we have to the utopian liberal democracy or what Karl Popper call "The Open Society". This is why millions of immigrants have chosen to come and make their lives here ....as they have done for centuries.

One of the reasons for this is the checks and balances that the media provides over the polictical legislature, the executive and indeed even the behaviour of our courts. Whatever happens to The Birmingham Post in the future, those behind the editorial screens must never forget this or shirk from their responsibility in this matter. It is not just The Daily Telegraph that has this power; I'm sure that the Leader of Birmingham City Council would, in private at least, not deny the usefulness of The Birmingham Post in constraining the inappropriate concentration of political power in our city!

In addition, the media can be and, on balance, probably is a force for good. Over the last three and a half years, The Birmingham Post has, through Thrive, its corporate social responsibility partnership with the business community, hugely influenced attitudes to some of the most pressing social issues of our times. Now, as The Birmingham Post ponders the next steps in its distinguished history, would not be a good time to neglect this mission.

I cannot of course comment on the commercial issue of daily vs weekly; I simply don't have the information to judge. However, I hope that the above may inform the question of what newspapers are actually for and maybe influence your owners to consider the bigger picture in making their decision.

Nick Venning said:

Hi Marc - I wonder if I can put this debate in the bigger picture....

In the world today, Britain is the nearest society that we have to the utopian liberal democracy or what Karl Popper call "The Open Society". This is why millions of immigrants have chosen to come and make their lives here ....as they have done for centuries.

One of the reasons for this is the checks and balances that the media provides over the polictical legislature, the executive and indeed even the behaviour of our courts. Whatever happens to The Birmingham Post in the future, those behind the editorial screens must never forget this or shirk from their responsibility in this matter. It is not just The Daily Telegraph that has this power; I'm sure that the Leader of Birmingham City Council would, in private at least, not deny the usefulness of The Birmingham Post in constraining the inappropriate concentration of political power in our city!

In addition, the media can be and, on balance, probably is a force for good. Over the last three and a half years, The Birmingham Post has, through Thrive, its corporate social responsibility partnership with the business community, hugely influenced attitudes to some of the most pressing social issues of our times. Now, as The Birmingham Post ponders the next steps in its distinguished history, would not be a good time to neglect this mission.

I cannot of course comment on the commercial issue of daily vs weekly; I simply don't have the information to judge. However, I hope that the above may inform the question of what newspapers are actually for and maybe influence your owners to consider the bigger picture in making their decision.

Kate Cooper said:

News is now free, the scarcity is human attention. So reinvention is the name of the game. If the continuously-on-line plus the fat-weekly-print doesn't work, then change again, and then again.


Today's Post targets today's Birmingham business community. It's a tiny community and largely homogenous. Moreover, tomorrow’s business community in the new economy will be very different from today’s. So diversifying the content to attract new readership is a vital move.


e.g. Few realise that world-renown scientists, men and women working at the forefront of human endeavour, work right here in the West Midlands. Many of them are life scientists and medics, others experts in nanotechnology, energy, virtual realities, materials and other emerging technologies . . . They are the revolutionaries. Their research is a source of innovation. What they're doing, what they can see their colleagues across the world doing, will change our lives greatly — it's fascinating stuff, it grabs attention!

Former Post Reader said:

I stopped buying the Post a few years back when it became clear much of the news was recycled national guff and there were only a handful of obviously over-worked journalists filling the pages. It also became clear that almost any corporate bull would be reprinted with hardly any analysis or even checking of facts.

Last year I realised the one or two useful articles a week were available online, free and in a timely fashion.

Obviously pursuit of readers is not something the Post was bothered about, as long as advertisers have kept the cash rolling in. Now the tap has been turned off suddenly you ask readers what they want.

Surely this is a sham consultation anyway.
What kind of company tells the world one option is less of what you get now for the same money? It is clear that TM has made a decision and the editor is has to go away and justify this. Something Paul Dale has frequently bashed Birmingham City Council for.

Ursula said:

Marc remember: You promised us a digest of all the - so diverse - feed back to your posting. A task I don't envy you.


Thank you, Nick Venning, for reminding me of the long since forgotten Popper of my early studies. OH MY GOD.


Whilst I share Former Post Reader's cynical view - to some extent - I don't think it particularly helpful to stop buying one's local paper. It's like frequenting Tesco instead of giving your local shop/market a chance of survival.


I wholeheartedly underwrite Kate Cooper's passionate plea for reinvention. We all need to do it every so often. Go with the Zeitgeist is the name of the game; think outside the box.


Bilbo, you are spot on: I don't know the Trinity Mirror. Your notion that freelancers come more expensive than employed staff appears outmoded in today's climate. Surely, they'll fix their price - as in any free market - to meet what they can supply and what is in demand. Fees will tumble and may the best, and most committed, writers undercut the rest of their sound bite colleagues.


U

Bilbo said:

Ursula,

You miss the point on freelancers and market forces. Trinity Mirror's policies will mean freelancers will only be used when the free bit becomes literal.

Quite what makes anyone believe that Trinity's axemen and woman (and I don't mean that singularly for Sly) will make a pot of freelance money available is beyond me.

Ben said:

The more I think about it the more the prospect of a weekly seems to be a sad reflection on the city. If a million people can't sustain one quality daily local then I don't believe the weekly+website option is going to work either. I am not convinced that web-based news is in any way a financially sustainable model. The web may attract lots of readers but it doesn't produce the revenues needed to sustain the business. It won't be long before the editor is posting another comment piece on how the website is losing £6m a year and they're going to have to close the weekly edition as well.

Ian Halstead's observation is interesting - that the circulation of the Post has always been relatively low compared to other local/regional papers in Britain's other major cities. I think this says more about the attitudes, aspirations and sense of pride of Birmingham's citizenry than it does about the quality of the Post. Outside of a small (and commendable) chattering class, there really seems to be extremely limited engagement within Birmingham with how the city develops, grows and faces future challenges.

I would argue that what the Post needs more than anything is a cultural shift within the city. If people were more engaged politically and culturally with their city they would naturally gravitate to the one main source of information - the Post. Perhaps the Post's decline can be seen in relation to widespread disinterest in local government. May be the best thing for the Post's circulation would be a mayoral election?!


Colin Coley said:

I would count myself among your readers who have a fanatical allegiance to The Birmingham Post.
I’ve been a reader for most of my adult life, and even before that. When I was a pupil at Pitmaston Boys School in the 60’s there was a board in a corridor for newspapers. On one side would be The Daily Mail (a broadsheet then) and on the other The Birmingham Post.
Unlike the majority of Post readers, I’m not in a business or profession whereby I need to keep my finger on the financial pulse.
So why do I buy the Post?
Well to a certain extent for what’s not in it. I’m not that bothered what Posh & David are up to, if I want to know what’s going to happen in Weatherfield next week I’ll look in a listings guide, and I certainly don’t want an Australian telling me what to think about our Continental Neighbours.
What I do want is local, national, and international news presented to the highest standards.

A lot has been written recently about the plight of the Birmingham Post. I must admit I’ve not read every word, but so far I’ve not seen any reference to the Post’s previous incarnation as a tabloid. (I think this was late 80’s early 90’s). I think it would be worth a try to return to this format, that is to say a quality newspaper with a strong business/finance section, which would hopefully have a wider appeal and boost circulation. In my opinion the emphasis on business news is too great now, and if anything part of the problem.

In any event The Birmingham Post should remain a daily paper, preferably with a Saturday edition. The only paper worth a trip to the newsstand on Saturday at the moment is The Independent; priced at £1.60 this could be easily undercut.
Personally I don’t see any future for a weekly Post.

Colin Coley
Hall Green.

Ben said:

Was in Devon over the weekend and took a look at the excellent Western Morning News and wondered how it maintains such high standards and relatively good circulation (circa 40,000). One obvious factor is that its title doesn't restrict its readership solely to Plymouth (where it is based/published) and it therefore sells well across the region.

Could the B'ham Post either rename itself (as perhaps simply 'The Post') or have an identical regional issue with a different name ('The Midlander'/'Midlands Post' etc) that allowed it to tap into a wider demographic?

robert gray said:

where do some of these people think the cash comes from?

so they really think a local businessman is going to invest in this title?

why would they waste thier money?

no local businessmen own football teams any more!!

think people should realise commercial realities!

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