WE expected bad news from the Daily Mail & General Trust today, and we certainly got it. Advertising revenue for the first three months of this year down by 24% at its national newspapers and 37% down at its regionals.
So, in response, the publisher says it will cut 1,000 jobs at its regional division, Northcliffe Media, to reduce the headcount by about 20% to 3,500. That's double the number of losses it envisaged in November 2008.
Though I am sympathetic to the plight of the people who will suffer the cutbacks, I think we waste our breath decrying these decisions. Every publisher, without exception, is taking similar action.
The DMGT announcement has to be seen in that context. The dramatic plunge in advertising in the past six months has produced an unprecedented crisis. The revenue that pays for journalism has, quite literally, vanished.
I know people will say that most companies remain profitable. But it's hard to be overly censorious about that when shareholders are clearly suffering (from falling stock prices and the cancelling of dividends) and when many senior executives are taking substantial salary cuts (and all of them surely should do so).
Profit margins have come down from their ridiculous levels of a couple of years back and there is no way now of retrospectively laying hands on that money. It's gone and there's no point in banging on about past fat cattery.
While the present round of cuts make financial logic for newspaper companies they are, of course, personally painful for the thousands of individuals who are losing their jobs.
Furthermore, I believe they are also painful for society, because they could well prove to be a threat to democracy. (Note that excellent quotation in the posting below).
I have long argued that we will eventually move from print to screen. What worries me, however, is that the transformation is being threatened by the immediate economic crisis. I fear that the death of print products will lead to the demise of the related online platforms too.
Anyway, are regional publishers really prepared to make the switch from one to the other? Are they devoting enough of their receding revenues to building vibrant online news outlets that will do the job of holding local power to account? Are journalists, for their part, thinking about a post-print world?
I believe publishers and journalists should be working together on projects to make as smooth a transition as possible from print to screen.
For example, in the basic and essential first stage of a new kind of web-based participatory journalism, skilled veteran journalists should be training people to become citizen journalists. They will need each other in future.
Almost all the blogs written by readers that are currently available on local paper websites are all about opinion. They need to have a reporting element if they are to have maximum impact in future.
This does not mean that we should abandon print at present (though print is clearly abandoning us). It means that we should be working towards a new form of journalism.
Journalism matters, as the National Union of Journalists so rightly reminds us in its campaigning slogan. It matters more than the platform that delivers it.
Local papers already have online platforms, but they are not getting the attention they need from publishers or journalists. The former cannot see how they can profit from them. The latter largely view them as a threat.
We need to get over that. If we want to ensure that our communities are not bamboozled by politicians and trampled on by big business, we have to preserve journalism. And, for the moment, that means preserving newspapers in their current form in order to provide the springboard to an online future.
To achieve that we need, at the very least, a series of informal concordats between publishers and staff. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, crucial to the social and political health of this nation.