Today, Wilmington Media announced that Press Gazette, the UK’s journalism trade mag, will be closing.
I’m proud to say I contributed plenty to the magazine. First, as student on work experience. Being on the newsdesk of what was already a shrinking staff gave me plenty of opportunities. And as I wrote up notes on the train home I realised that I was improving as a journalist with every day I spent there.
There were signs of discontent when I was on my placement. While looking through the paper archives, I was struck by how the print product had evolved in such a short time. Gone was the slick, filled-to-the-brim magazine that screamed “finger” and “pulse” at you. In its place had arrived a cheap-feeling, awkward publication that resembled an internal staff newsletter.
I was told, way back in 2007, that the British Press Awards — the magazine’s big event of the year — was what was keeping PG alive and well. Well, alive at least. It was a real money spinner. Should the awards go, then the magazine would almost certainly go with it. It’s no coincidnce that the Awards happened last week. One last hurrah.
I made some great contacts. Martin Stabe, the then online editor (who is now at Retail Week), gave me what was essentially my first big break by linking to my site from his widely read blog. I repayed this favour by calling him Michael. D’oh. Martin managed to hook me up as the magazine’s Student Journalism blogger — my first regular paid gig.
After university, Martin gave me my second big break, putting me in touch with Nick Reynolds at the BBC. That contact led to my current job on the BBC Internet Blog. I hope and believe that if I play my cards right, I could well end up working for the BBC for the rest of my life.
There’s no doubt that I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without the help of Martin and Press Gazette.
But in more recent times, my relationship with the magazine has been seriously tarnished.
Fast forward from 2007 to last summer. After a month or so of unemployed panic, I was excited to learn that Press Gazette were hiring a reporter. Brilliant news for me — I knew most of the staff, knew the beat, had the skills and even the contacts.
Encouragingly, two members of staff emailed to suggest I go ahead and apply.
I was confident. In reality, I should have been sceptical. The position I was filling was that of Patrick Smith — who grabbed a great spot on PaidContent. They needed a replacement, or so I thought.
I’d decided I didn’t want the job about five minutes into the interview. I was told that they didn’t actually know if they were hiring anyone. What they’d prefer to do was extend the hours of an existing member of staff from three days (if I remember correctly) to five days. Fair enough — although it would have been a good idea to work their budgets out before advertising for a full time reporter.
But I could let that go detail go. What I couldn’t let go was what happened next. I was offered another placement — maybe (yes, maybe) with expenses. Incredibly insulting — I’d gone from applying for a job to being offered some work experience. To quote a tabloid sensation who is no longer with us: “‘Ave I got ‘MUG’ written on my ‘ead?”
I didn’t. I turned down the placement (or rather, scooted around the offer) and said I was interested in the paid position, thanks. They said they’d let me know.
Weeks passed, and nothing. Nothing until the leaving do of Patrick, which I was invited along to. On the day of his departure, I got a call at about half five letting me know I didn’t get the job. I’m guessing the editor suddenly realised it would be a good idea to tell me before I went to to the pub. After all, everyone there would be congratulating the successful applicant. Or rather, the reporter who got two extra days a week.
I wonder how long it would have taken had I not gone to wish Patrick well?
But that’s besides the point. What that whole furore told me about Press Gazette is that it was a publication in complete disarray. My experiences were just one part of a big mess that started from the very top and tumbled down. It was a publication that lacked direction, ideas and, crucially, money. As a freelance, I’ve waited over 8 months to be paid by them, contiually emailing and ringing to get it sorted out. Only to learn the best way to deal with the unprofessionalism (of their accounts, not the journalists) was to have a great old rant on Twitter.
A great shame. Journalism needs publications like Press Gazette, but long gone are the days where it had any real drive or clout. MediaGuardian, big in budget, has flattened it into a mere pancake of irrelevance.
Is it risky to have the dominant media publication tied to a newspaper? Probably, but MediaGuardian still reports discontent at the Guardian Media Group, so, on the surface at least, it seems to be ok. And if not, bloggers and other sites can make up the gap.
Maybe Press Gazette will rise up from the dead like it has done in the past — but I don’t see it. This collapse goes well beyond the credit crunch. A magazine that I held in very high regard has fallen from a once great height, leaving me with a very bitter taste in my mouth.
The journalists at PG only found out of the closure today too. Not surprising — given my experience there. I wish them all the very best of luck finding other work — when you look at the size of the staff, to put out that much good content was an amazing effort, and they all deserve to be better paid and appreciated.
There’ll be coos of nostalgia for Press Gazette in the press for the next few days, but, with tinges of regret, it really is time to let it go. They say the website will remain, but I think we all know it’ll just be the job site and little else. Roy Greenslade has put out this plea for a buyer — but I don’t think any publishers will touch it.