CNJ editor: Newspapers must put readers before shareholders
'If you look at the CNJ you can see at a glance that has a reader empowerment'
23 March, 2017 — By Richard Osley
Eric Gordon addressing the London Assembly
THE editor of the Camden New Journal told a London Assembly committee that readers needed to be put before company shareholders as London Assembly members discussed the future of local news provision.
Eric Gordon was among newspaper editors and journalism experts who gave evidence to the Economy Committee on Tuesday morning amid concerns over the pressures facing local newspapers and a recent strike over cuts by reporters in south London working for the Newsquest group.
He said that the small number of companies in charge of large numbers of local newspaper titles had the extra burden of trying to please shareholders – while “common ownership newspapers” could survive on smaller profit margins. Mr Gordon said that monopolies on news should be “abhorred” and that this was the real problem with George Osborne’s recent appointment as editor of the Evening Standard. “The politics of Mr Osborne are less important than this monopoly in journalism,” he said.
He said that some local newspapers had “shut titles, cut staff or indulged in make-believe journalism or make-believe ownership”, adding: “We founded the CNJ as a commonly owned newspaper. There are only two such newspapers in the UK. There are roughly 1,500 local newspapers in the UK and there only two, unlike the Continent where you find a higher degree of co-ops in ownerships of companies, including newspapers. In England it’s been shunned so you have two, us and the valiant West Highland Free Press.”
He told the committee: “If you have a common ownership newspaper the rate of profit can be kept low and you can still survive. If you are snapped at the heels by shareholders, they will understandably want high dividends. If you have a common ownership you can survive on a lower return. We actually have this umbilical cord connecting ourselves to our readers. “If you look at the CNJ you can see at a glance that it has a reader empowerment: we have four pages of letters, show me one weekly newspaper in London which has so many letters sent by readers. So we have this living relationship with our readers which is quite unique but what you would expect from a commonly owned company.”
The Brixton Bugle, the BBC, the Trinity Mirror group and the South London Press were also represented at the meeting. “I have this belief that it is the reader who should be the owner of the newspaper,” said Mr Gordon. “I know it’s not looked upon like that by other people in that manner but I do believe that is how it works. Readers must play a part. They don’t edit the paper, but they play a part in the ethos of the paper.”