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Crisis in Midlands journalism: the fight back starts

9 December 2011

The fight back against the savage cuts to journalism in the Midlands was launched at a packed meeting in Birmingham.

The "Crisis in Midlands Journalism" event was prompted by the recent announcement to shed 50 jobs at Trinity Mirror and the major cuts planned at the BBC's Midlands operations.

Don Hale OBE, former editor of the Matlock Mercury; Michele Paduano, BBC Midlands Today reporter, and Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, addressed an audience of 50-plus journalists, at the city's council house.

Among the subjects discussed were how the media could capitalise on the internet and other digital platforms and how awareness may be raised about the difficulties facing the industry.

Neil Elkes, local government correspondent for the Birmingham Post and Mail, said successive rounds of redundancies had damaged the coverage of court cases and council meetings.

He said:

"What needs to be communicated to the outside world is that there is sometimes no-one here for these meetings. I fear the business model for newspapers in particular is broken. Companies are scurrying around trying to find out how they're going to fill a hole in their advertising."

Colin Palmer, who worked for 35 years in commercial radio, said that "newsrooms had been eroded and journalists undervalued" for many years.

The meeting heard that over a dozen Midlands newspapers, some more than 100 years old, had shut since 2009.

Michelle Stanistreet warned the meeting of the damage that repeated cuts had on journalists' ability to hold those in power to account. She said:

"The sad reality is that communities deserve better than this and the resulting democratic deficit is something that should frighten and anger all of us."

A motion presented by Chris Morley, NUJ Northern & Midlands Organiser, and passed by the meeting, recognised the crisis facing the industry and called for the situation to be brought into the public eye. He said:

"We have got a hell of a battle on our hands to convince people that our industry is still relevant. It could be that people won't miss what they've got until it's gone, but we've got to get the message out there."

The Motion

That this meeting declares that quality journalism, underpinned by ethical values, is a force for good in a democratic society; that the market is failing to deliver the necessary quality in newspapers and commercial TV and radio broadcasting due to unsustainable cuts; and that there is now a state of crisis in journalism in the Midlands.

Furthermore, this meeting believes that politically-rooted cutbacks at the BBC threaten to undermine its duty to deliver high quality journalism to all and will leave citizens with increasingly superficial and limited scrutiny of events in their localities and region.

This meeting therefore urges that politicians of all parties support the efforts of employees and their trade unions at the BBC to defend high quality content in TV, radio and online as a baseline for quality journalism in this region. It also asks that communities and their representatives condemn the crippling cuts that are taking place in the commercial sector and support new and innovative forms of ownership away from the failed business models of over-large commercial companies.

Tags: , birmingham, bbc, newspapers, trinity mirror, broadcasting, birmingham post and mail, matlock mercury