A CONTEST between the popular ITV ‘tec drama Broadchurch and BBC’s Baltimore-based The Wire is not one many people would think of holding. But both deserve smudgy honours for their portrayals of newspapers.
The American drama goes deeper into print, with an entire series set in and around a newspaper. The paper is modelled on the Baltimore Sun where screenwriter David Simon worked as a journalist. In one episode, an editor stands on a chair in the newsroom to announce cuts, saying: “We will have to do more with less.”
More with less. My life captured in one of the greatest TV dramas ever. My life and that of just about any other journalist attempting to stay afloat on a local newspaper at this time.
In April 2009, the BBC showed all of The Wire. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph at the time, Simon said: “All the things that have been depicted in The Wire over the past five years — the crime, the corruptions — actually happened. The stories were stolen from real life.”
The newspaper sections certainly rang true, as did a sad moment in Broadchurch this week. After a misfiring second series, writer Chris Chibnall’s drama is back on fine form with a disturbing rape storyline and passing hints of a swinging scene in the south coast resort.
The plotting is great, the suspension twanging. As always, the relationship between detectives Hardy and Miller sings like a simmering row. Miller often comes out on top with some great comeback lines, snapping after interviewing one suspect: “I am NEVER in the mood for swaggery young shits.”
And its treatment of the current crisis in print? Perhaps only journalists will have noticed the grim relevance of one recent moment when local newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe, a solid presence in Broadchurch, was summoned to the newspaper group’s HQ for a meeting with a much younger woman executive, who airily tells her that the Broadchurch Echo office is being closed and the newspaper absorbed into a larger group paper, with a wider news focus.
Maggie puts up a spirited defence of the importance of proper local news, and defends the role of a paper that’s been around for a century or so. She is right, for all she might as well be spitting into the wind, or into the face of corporate indifference and incompetence that evinces a sort of arrogant shrug which says ‘that’s just the way it is, get with the modern world’.
The young executive editor whisks off with her salad and her fragrant stupidity, back to bla-bla-land, leaving faithful, work-obsessed old Maggie with her redundant beliefs. She seeks solace in the churchyard and ends up losing a misery showdown with the local vicar, a man whose God is always frowning.
Back in the real world this week, the company I used to work for announced that it would be closing the sub-editing ‘hub’ in Newport. Two years ago, the hatching of that move to Wales cost sub-editing jobs throughout the country, including mine.
The last few months of my life on the York Press were spent getting to grips with the new system, and working with the people in Newport, many of whom were new graduates paid around £13,000 a year— about half the hardly-generous previous rate for the same job..
Some were old hands like myself, bouncing from one ‘new thing’ to the next. Now they are all being bounced away, with a few going to another ‘hub’ in Dorset (ah, perhaps the same place where the Broadchurch paper is going to be padded out with non-local local news?).
Nearly everyone with any sense knew from the start that the Newport hub was a terrible idea. I know an editor who believes such moves to ‘hubs’ are introduced purely as a way of breaking down old editing structures and making it easier to offload people. That wouldn’t surprise me, but it does still sadden me.
Now read Peter Preston from the Observer if you want to know why Brexit provides the motive!
Why do editors and newspapers fall victim to Brexit cuts? Forget Peugeot and Ellesmere Port for a moment. Think of something much closer to journalism’s future here and now.
The mighty Gannett company, America’s largest newspaper company, owns Newsquest of the UK, with 205 titles and brands around Britain. When the dollar sinks against the pound, Newsquest profits help Gannett figures and keep shareholders happy.
But what happens when the boot is on the other post-Brexit vote foot, when sterling suffers most pitifully? Then the boss of Gannett talks “negative impact” and promises “cost operational improvements to more meaningfully impact the second half of the year”.
Which in plainer English means shutting down the sub-editing hub in Newport, south Wales – 70 jobs lost overall, the last 14 going now – and shifting what’s left to Weymouth. The meaningful impact, you might say, of getting pushed off the pier.
PETER PRESTON is a former editor in chief of The Guardian and Observer newspapers
DECENT people remain on the Press; one of that decent number left this week (for another job, not thanks to corporate whim!). Goodbye, then, to Gavin Aitchison and his gruff good heart. Gavin was the news editor, beer writer, weaver of internet spells, dealer in old photographs of York and, surely, more besides. He will be missed by those who remain.