You have to be brave or foolhardy to take over as editor of a local newspaper in the current perfect storm. Circulation dropping, advertising plummeting, revenues through the floor. Darren Parkin, the 38-year-old editor of the Coventry Telegraph is not foolhardy. ‘Surviving the perfect storm; One year on’ was the topic of his Coventry Conversation last Friday in the Herbert Art Gallery. Survive he has.
Parkin took over a ship fourteen months ago that was rocking and reeling on the seas of change. The figures were down as everywhere else but worse ‘The Tele’ seemed to have lost touch with the heartbeat of the Coventry community. He spent his first weekend as editor reading, eating and sleeping in the newspaper’s library to see if he could rediscover that Holy Grail. One concrete result is a page each and every week of community news and - in an innovation - much of that is now written by Coventry University’s Journalism students in a real live portfolio project. Writes John Mair…
The greatest challenge to local newspapers today is without a doubt the internet. Why buy when you can find it online? Advertising, especially classified, has leached to cyberspace so too have eyeballs. Parkin has met this head on with some hugely popular blogs on the Cov Telegraph website. One, ‘The Geek Files’ (what it says on the tin) is far and away the most popular in the Mirror regional newspapers stable. But, Parkin admitted he had not thought it a good idea when first suggested ‘How wrong can you be?’ was his mea culpa. But he also offered that, in his view, local newspapers had gone as far as they could for the moment in developing their net presence. TV and video was tried but did not really succeed on the site apart from the Coventry cat and the wheelie bin.(http://blogs.coventrytelegraph.net/ladslounge/2010/08/woman-throws-cat-into-wheelie.htmlurl)
And there is an ongoing debate on how much news should be released in advance of the printed product. Should it be web first or web second?
Parkin on taking over was faced with a staff of journalists who had become comfortable. Too comfortable. The previous editor was in post for just a year and his predecessor for over a decade. He thinks he has re-motivated and refocused them whilst some have been ‘let go’. He was full of praise for his newsroom and their talent.
The perfect storm is far from finished. Over Christmas, the ‘Tele’ put up its cover price by 30p to 45p to make up for the anticipated 20% rise in the cost of newsprint this year. Initially and as expected that hit sales further but they seem to be now back on the recovery track. He admitted that all he could do anyway was moderate not reverse that long-term decline . In 1953 Coventry Telegraph was at the height of their power with a circulation of 100,000 :the circulation has fallen to around the 35,000 mark today.
But what still sold papers were good stories and relevant ones too. Parkin told his audience of a recent story on cuts in the Warwickshire Police which resulted in a bawling out of him by the Chief Constable. Soon after he announced them and will be implementing them. The ‘Tele’ had got it right.
As for local news partnerships, he was willing to join in with the likes of BBC Coventry and Warwickshire and others. He and they and the local commercial radio stations are involved in the Coventry News Forum which is brokered by the University journalism department. That meets monthly and has so far proved of mutual benefit to all. As an example,coverage of the 70th Anniversary of the Blitz got deeper following a News Forum meet.
Parkin started his career as a Youth Training Scheme intern on the Dewsbury Reporter 22 years ago, paid a pittance by the state. Since he has been Young Journalist of the year three times, a chief reporter on the Solihull Times and at 24, Britain’s youngest editor – of the Wolverhampton News. From 2005, he was editor in chief of the well-regarded weeklies division of Coventry Newspapers and since November 2009 the Editor of the Coventry Telegraph-a job he said he had always coveted.
Perfect or not,one suspects that Parkin will survive many more storms.
With thanks to journalism.co.uk where this will appear
John Mair invented and runs the Coventry Conversations at Coventry Universit(www.coventry.ac.uk/coventryconversations). He is a senior lecturer in journalism at Coventry University and co-ordinates the Coventry News Forum.