So Farewell Then MEN?

Can this be true? There is a rumour that the Guardian Media Group is going to sell off the Manchester Evening News to Trinity Mirror in a bid to protect its flagship title in London.  

Confidential has a powerful editorial:

In 1821 the Manchester Guardian was created.

In time Manchester and the Guardian became almost indistinguishable, their identities and qualities merging, both a byword for radicalism. In the 1860s the Manchester Guardian bought the Manchester Evening News. 

In 1959 the Guardian dropped Manchester from its name, and fled to London. The Mancunian heritage of the paper was left in the seemingly safe hands of the Evening News which proved popular and popularist.

Now it seems that the Guardian is to drop Manchester altogether.

Shame on the Guardian Media Group if this is the truth. It is their mismanagement which has driven what was a very good regional paper to the ground. To now turn tail and run from it seems a rare species of cowardice. Ill-thought through decisions such as creating the unwatched monster that is Channel M, producing a stagnant web entertainment mag such as City Life, and moving to Hardman Street on a premium lease, have hit the journalists and other staff hard, costing them their jobs. In fact on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you have to go out of your way to even find an Evening News.

Of course regional papers have been the principal victims of the shift to the internet in advertising and news coverage: an industry shift largely out of the control of the Guardian Media Group. But the desperate measures to diversify have exacerbated the problem. They have done nothing to help the Manchester Evening News. Yet if How-Do’s rumour is correct then Trinity Mirror appears to think there is still value in the brand.

Manchester needs a regular news provider.

The Manchester Evening News should still perform that duty, whether it changes form to become a weekly magazine with daily news online is open to debate. But surely it could make the changes within the framework of the Guardian Media Group.

Certainly those responsible for bringing the MEN to this crossroads should be considering their positions whatever happens. Because if the result of their actions is that Manchester loses its connection – apart from a token presence – with the Guardian after 190 years then that’s a hell of an inheritance to have squandered.

It would indeed be a betrayal for the Guardian to sever its historical links with this city. I have mixed feelings about the consequences. The loss of the MEN would be no loss at all. Something better may come in its place. But it would be bad to see more reporters on the unemployment rolls.

It also seems that Confidential are a little too harsh on GMG. If there’s a choice between saving the MEN and saving the Guardian, it’s no contest. And shouldn’t the regional management take some of the blame for the risible state of its newspaper?

There’s an interesting comment by ex-MEN staffer Ray King that seems to support this.

That the MEN is a victim of major structural change – migration of recruitment advertising to the web and access to news via a multitude of new media – is beyond doubt. But is it also indisputable that the paper – on which I was a journalist for more than 30 years – suffered grievously from appalling management decisions. The first was to waste more than £20m on a press in Deansgate when the opportunity to share much better plant with the Telegraph in Trafford Park was there many years before the MEN made the inevitable move. Then the decision to go ’24 hours’ (upon which I left the staff) has proved risible. By setting an ‘evening’ newspaper deadline earlier than that of the morning papers, the MEN sacrificed its ability to compete with the nationals – which was what we strove to do during all the years I was there – on any worthwhile story ever again. They even got the giveaway policy wrong. If the paper is free for some people some of the time, you will in evitably alienate those who have to pay for it all the time. In editorial terms, the MEN has been too timid for years. I had to battle hard, when writing the editorial comment columns, to maintain an anti-Iraq war stance, which is what the MEN did and for which I’m proud. But the editor was too often too willing to accept rubbish if espoused by ‘leading figures’. Hence the paper took a neutral stance on John Prescott’s lunatic scheme for an elected north west assemby, came out broadly in favour of the congestion charge (thank goodness my column lasted long enough to say told you so before they sacked me) and accepted the blather from Charles Allen that Granada would continue to be a programme making force in Manchester while ITV was busy airbrushing the most famous commercial TV brand from history. Frankly I don’t see much of a future for the MEN. The print media cannot compete with its electronic rivals in bringing the news; it’s duty is comment and analysis. Unfortunately virtually everyone at the MEN who might have been experienced enough to delivering that has gone. Don’t even get me started on Mark Dodson’s egomaniac folly, Channel M. Shame.

‘Goodbyeeee, goodbyeee; wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eyeeee’

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