It's all quiet at the Printer's Devil pub in Bristol these days, where Evening Post journalists used to meet. The grand ballroom is dark and silent at the former Western Daily Press social club. For Bristol journalists, there's nowhere much to go these days.
As a once-great media centre comes to terms with, in effect, the merger of its two distinct and much-loved daily newspapers - one for the city, the other for the country - and the loss of almost half their staff, it's not just tradition that's being demolished. A journalism committed to serving readers and local democracy seems to be being dismantled. Northcliffe Newspapers, own-ersof the Bristol Evening Postand Western Daily Press, have put both titles up for sale' two of 112 UK regional newspapers expected to raise pounds 1.5bn for the Daily Mail & General Trust group.
Northcliffe made pounds 102m profits in 2005, or a profit margin of 25 per cent. To raise profits to the 30 per cent desired by shareholders, it is going to have to cut into the muscle of its newspapers, the last spare fat having been pared away long ago. Last Friday it emerged that compulsory redundancies would be enforced, in spite of 42 staff having volunteered to meet a company plan for 36 job cuts. Some were told they were indispensable and others will be sacked instead. Few staff expect eithertitle to survive in its current format.
The editors went first. "They said I was being sacked because I was too familiar with the readers," says ex-Evening Post deputy editor Stan Szecowka, who's using his redundancy money to set up a new com-munity newspaper in the city. "Yet we'd won Campaigning Newspaper of the Year in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and Community Newspaper of the Year in 2004."
Located at Temple Way in the city centre, the Evening Post is neighbour to some of the nation's most deprived schools. "We joined the Education Action Zone forum, and worked with the Arts Council and the Poet Laureate," Szecowka says. "We got the kids believing in themselves' we raised pounds 70,000 for the schools. Truancy levels dropped. And we were engaging readers right across the social spectrum."
The papers' turmoil comes at a time when the entire Bristol media is in trouble. At the local BBC headquarters in White-ladies Road, they try to come to terms with job losses by speaking of the "wider ecology" of the city's broadcast sector. With 70 jobs lost this year from within the BBC, many staff have joined the city's independents. But with five-and-a-half hours of ITV West regional non-news programming in 2000 having been cut to just 90 minutes per week in February 2005, there isn't much regional work. Only BBC radio carries significant local news now in Bristol. …