After the high-profile merger of publishing giants Penguin and Random House comes a development in regional news with a significance that belies its parochial implications. Former Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery is reportedly involved in talks to consolidate the local news assets of Northcliffe Media (regionals arm of the Daily Mail & General Trust), Trinity Mirror and Iliffe News and Media (parent company Yattendon Group) within his own venture, Local World, which he would lead, and of which he would be a part stake-holder. Such a scheme would not only provide evidently beneficial economies of scale, but would combine the number one, four and eleven publishers in UK regional news in an industry that is barely keeping its head above water.
With an advertising downturn even more marked than national trends, and audiences’ ‘digital migration’ ever more pronounced, bosses could be forgiven for signaling a retreat from the frontlines of local print journalism. It is to his credit, therefore, that Montgomery has resolved to march to the sound of gunfire. Described by Roy Greenslade on his blog as a ‘consistent cold-blooded cost-cutter’, the practical advantages of a consolidation of this size are self-evident; though, as Robert Andrews notes, regulation violation may prove to be Montgomery’s unguarded flank. Uniting Northcliffe (South West Wales Publications including South Wales Evening Post) with Trinity Mirror regionals (The Western Mail, South Wales Echo and Celtic Weeklies), for example, would give Local World a near exclusive lock-up on south Wales readers. Montgomery must beware this potential monopolistic red flag to the often bovine Competition Commission, which has form in stymying plans for mergers and acquisitions of this kind (notably Northcliffe media’s own attempt to sell titles to the KM Group in Kent).
As Greenslade observes, however, ‘Monty […] is just the kind of newspaper manager who will be willing to confront the authorities.’ Consensus among media professionals suggests that mere tinkering will not stem the flood away from traditional local titles, and wholesale structural reform must be accompanied by a coherent approach to localized media in the digital age. Whether Montgomery will resemble King Canute ordering back the tide remains to be seen; other local media operations are surely hoping that his robust style of leadership might provide a blueprint for success in a field henceforth marred by downsizing, failure and defeat. Monty will certainly be hoping he can deliver his own El Alamein.